Cricket - Marsh
Rod Marsh, the iconic Australian wicketkeeper, succumbed to a heart attack on Friday. Image Credit: Action Images

Kolkata: The ‘Big Boys’ of Australia or West Indies, who dominated cricket in the ‘70s and ‘80s,’ preferred to keep the top few buttons of their shirts open. Men like Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee - who collaborated for as many as 95 dismissals in Tests - did so almost as a style statement and a way to flaunt their machismo.

It reflected in the way they played their game too - play hard on tracks which were uncovered till 1975, give a mouthful to the rival batsmen and then split the beverages after the day’s work.

However, Marsh, the iconic wicketkeeper who passed away on Friday at the age of 74 after a heart attack, was more than just that. The hugely talented group under Ian Chappell may have been labelled as the precursor to the ‘Ugly Aussies persona’ while the mustachioed Western Australian was no saint either. However, cricket folklore has it that Marsh had asked the Chappell brothers - the then captain Greg and his brother Trevor - to refrain from bowling underarm to a New Zealand tailender during a 1981 One-day International to win the game.

For once, his teammates did not listen to him and the incident had forever been a blot in the careers of the two younger Chappell brothers.

Cricket - Marsh
Pakistan and Australian teams maintain a moment's silence on the eve of first day's play of their first Test at Rawalpindi on Friday. Image Credit: AFP

While the ‘caught Marsh bowled Lillee’ mode of dismissal has been a stuff of legend, an iconic photo still does the rounds in sports quizzes is that of a nine-man slip cordon with Lillee steaming in to bowl in a 1977 Test match against New Zealand with Marsh standing yards behind with the Chappell brothers, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole next to each other - waiting for that snick from the terrorised batsman.

There is another one doing the rounds in the social media after his death - that of a leaping Marsh in front of the first slip to pluck out one of his 355 dismissals. However, the start of such of an illustrious career was not exactly smooth when he was brought into Australia team for the 1970-71 Ashes series. As he was still growing into his role, an unforgiving home media named him ‘Iron Gloves’ for a few fumbles - though they had to put the name in the backburner soon. While he gradually took over the mantle of the best gloveman of his times, Marsh had always maintained that he had learnt a lot about his craft from English Alan Knott - not too many of his ilk would give such credit to their eternal rivals.

After hanging up his gloves, Marsh spent 11 years nurturing young Australian talent at the national cricket academy in Adelaide before taking on a similar role for England before accepting an order from the International Cricket Council (ICC) to be one of the Founder Directors of their upcoming Global Cricket Academy in the early part of this millennium. He was part of an illustrious trio, alongwith Mudassar Nazar and Dayle Hadlee, to get the academy up and running.

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Stepping into a cubby hole of an office at the site of the then upcoming Dubai Sports City with an erstwhile colleague, I was pleasantly surprised at the amiable nature of the man sitting across the table. Was he actually the hero who formed the pivot of the dreaded Australian team with his inputs from behind the stumps?

The aura of Marsh, for all his humility, refused to wear off on me as one would occasionally meet him on call of duty during his stay in Dubai.There was another incident when during an animated cricket conversation, he did actually step back several yards on one of the Oval grounds in the ICC Complex to show the professional hazard of keeping to Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Lenny Pascoe.

Theese speed merchants, not to speak of the other members of that golden generation, will be feeling a lot more lonely today.