Hard work pays, ask Marsh

IF ever a bloke deserved to succeed in life, that bloke is Geoff Marsh. As I sit down to write about "Swampy" I realise that he will hardly be remembered as a player by future generations weaned on the more glamorous and exciting players in the Australian team.

He may be remembered as a fine coach, only time will tell.

Whatever he achieves in this role it will be a travesty if Geoff doesn't get the credit he deserves for his enormous influence on Australian cricket at a time when it had to pull itself up by its boot straps, at a time when the side needed all the character and stability it could get.

We sometimes talk about Merv Hughes as the heart of the Australian side of his era. For the best part of a decade. Swampy was the backbone.

Geoff's natural talents were very limited. I don't say that to put him down because he was a wonderful example of what you can achieve without being a genius, so long as you work hard and put 110 per cent into everything you do.

A coach would not offer Mark Waugh as a role model for kids, because he has a special talent which very few in the game will match.

In contrast, Geoff Marsh became a formidable international cricketer by using every ounce of his ability and showing the sort of determination that wins wars.

Swampy wanted desperately to be a Test player and he eventually became a very good one. He is an outstanding example of a man whose desire conquered every obstacle.

His contemporaries liked him as a bloke and looked up to him as a player because they recognised the character that went into his game.

Many of them were far more talented than he was, but none of them would claim to be better. We knew they were, he knew they were, but nobody ever, ever underestimated what he put into the side.

Swampy was the bridge and the buffer between the team and the captain and that was a crucial role at a time when Allan Border was coming to grips with what he wanted to be.

When the "Captain Grumpy" mood descended on AB, Swampy would invariably take the weight and the spotlight off the captain, lighten the atmosphere and focus the team on something that had to be done.

He was a very determined character and he read AB like a book, which is significant when you consider that he probably may never finish another book in his life!

This is because he has a streak of nervous energy which prevents him sitting in the same place for long. He could focus on cricket and play long innings under pressure, but off the field he had a restlessness about him which sometimes drove others crazy.

It was not unusual for Geoff to phone the physio at 3 a.m. for a chat and "How about a cup of tea?"

His perennial room-mate, David Boon, once woke up in the small hours during the 1989 Ashes tour to find Swampy naked, practicing his shots in front of the mirror.

Outwardly, Swampy always looked calm and serene, but there was a really hard drive inside which compelled him to want to improve, to play every match as though it was his first and last for Australia.

He was the perfect Vice-captain at a time when the Australian Vice-captaincy was not easy.

He treasured the position and regarded it as a real honour.

As a batsman, Geoff suffered at first from the sheer intensity of his desire to hold his place in the team and do well.

One of the first things we had to do was to work on his grip of the bat, he did not hold the bat, so much so he strangled it. You could see the strain in his knotted forearm muscles, sometimes he even complained of cramps.

He was prone to get out in the cover point area, driving with his bottom hand working overtime. But Geoff worked on the problem as hard as he worked at everything else, including his fielding.

He was the original iron hands. When he broke into the Australian side, he spent hours practising his catching and made himself into one of the finest gully fieldsmen in the game.

His persistence spoke volumes for his mental drive and determination, and his love for the game.

Every player, even the most dedicated, has a day when he cannot switch on, when playing cricket for a living becomes a chore.

Every player that is except Geoff Marsh.

He was always the first to say "C'mon let's get out there and do it."

I cannot recall him ever complaining about the work load or whingeing about pressure, real or imaginary.

Like AB, he just loved to get out and play cricket.

They shared a great zest for cricket, which may be why he read the captain's moods so well.

It is not generally known, but Geoff had the toughest assignment ever offered to a Vice-captain on the Ashes tour of 1989 - leading the side against Lancashire at Old Trafford the day after Australia won the first Test of the series.

The team was celebrating after its win, and the next morning it was still tired and emotional.

With a couple of exceptions, I have never seen a more bedraggled set of bog-eyed cricketers, and with AB having the game off, captain Swampy certainly had a job in his hands.

Lancashire won the toss and batted, and very early in the day David Boon set new standards, at short leg, by dropping the easiest catch of the tour.

It ballooned high into the air, but instead of snapping it up, Boonie toppled decorously forward until his helmet fell over his eyes and the ball hit him on the forearm.

Swampy was shaking his head, clapping his hands between overs and telling everybody to get a grip.

Then an edge flew straight between his hands and belted him on the chest! I reckon we dropped five catches before lunch, with Swampy all the while desperately trying to keep a straight face and lead from the front.

Eventually, we won the match by nine wickets, but not before the county's two imported quicks, Wasim Akram of Pakistan and the West Indies Patrick Patterson were warned off for bowling too many bouncers at poor old Geoff, of course.

Swampy had a reputation for slow scoring which was not altogether undeserved but he knew his role in the side and that included getting centuries in Test matches, rather than flashy fifties.

In the one-day game we worked on the principle that if one of the early batsmen scored a century, even if that innings absorbed quite a few overs, that would form the basis for a formidable team score.

Geoff scored nine one-day international centuries, which when he retired was more than any other Australian batsman and despite his detractors, he played some magnificent one-day innings.

None was better than 113 of 140 deliveries against the West Indies in Bridgetown in 1991.

Swampy hit eight fours and three sixes that day, including a monumental stroke off Malcolm Marshall that cleared the roof of the stand beyond long-on.

I recall one reporter asking AB afterwards if he was surprised by Geoff's big hitting and Border looking genuinely surprised at the question.

"Why wouldn't he?" Our captain remarked, "He is a farmer, you know," Geoff was very strong and hit some of the longest sixes I have seen, yet I suspect if you ask experts to list the so called big hitters of the modern game, he wouldn't get a mention.

He was courageous too, with the inner strength to battle on and get the job done.

He carried his bat twice in one-day internationals and I well remember the quality of his unbeaten 126 against New Zealand in Chandigarh during the 1987 World Cup.

Batting first, we were struggling a bit, but Swampy stuck at it and made the difference.

He hit two sixes in the final over of the innings and Australia eventually won by 17 runs.

Few friendships, in cricket, have been stronger than the one between Swampy and David Boon. They had an almost telepathic understanding of each other and shared a sense of humour which often didn't require many words.

During one stint in the sub-continent they both had incredible hair cuts and went out to bat looking like the Sesame Street characters Bent and Ernie.

One of the few times Boon snapped on the field was when he heard an Indian player call Marsh a cheat.

David really went for the jugular so much so that political correctness demanded an apology afterwards. However, we were all secretly pleased that he stuck by his mate.

Boonie tells the story of one town when they were together and Swampy as usual wanted to talk to Boon who was immersed in a book, wasn't interested but Swampy pestered him, and kept trying to break his concentration.

Finally, he grabbed the book and tore it up and asked now do you want to talk Boonie.

There was a lot more to Swampy Marsh as a cricketer than meets the eye, and no one should underestimate what he did for the game.

Since retiring, Geoff has had a successful stint as the Australian coach and is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the Zimbabwe team.

His oldest son is following in his father's footsteps and at the age of 18 has made a successful debut for Western Australia.