13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 87


The Marshall art of terror

Simon Barnes

NO bowler in history has extorted fear from his opponents quite as much as Mal- colm Marshall. Last week Marshall died of cancer of the colon at the age of 41, and, as the obituaries pile in, celebrating a brilliant cricketer and a man of universally acknow- ledged decency, so I remember the abso- lute terror he inspired. Slow dissolve, then, to 1984 at Headingley. England had just lost the first two Test matches of the summer to the West Indies but, hey, it wasn't all bad. At least they wouldn't have to face Marshall again that match. Marshall was fear. He was only five foot ten, but that made it worse. His bouncer came in low and skidding and throatwards. It was hard to see, but not as hard as his second bouncer. The batsman sometimes seized on the first with relief; but Marshall saved up the second, and that was the one that hit you.

But, at Headingley, Marshall broke his left thumb in two places while fielding and was told not to play cricket for ten days. For the England batsmen it was like wait- ing outside the headmaster's study and being told that they were not going to be caned after all.

England were actually making a, fist of things in this match: a century from Lamb,

five wickets for Allan. Gomes was stuck in the nineties when West Indies lost their ninth wicket, leaving England just 20 runs behind. But wait. Who was this coming out to bat with a plaster cast around his arm? Marshall it was, holding up an end one- handed while Gomes reached his 100, and then playing a kind of table-tennis shot for a one-handed four. It was outrageous, but it could have been worse. At least he wasn't bowling.

So England went back into the pavvy as the sun sank over Leeds, and the openers padded up. And they looked out of the win- dow and saw a sight that brought the old terror back with force. West Indies were warming up right outside the pavilion. And who was there warming up against them? It was Marshall. He was going to bowl in his plaster cast. England objected — not fair. The colour of the plaster, you know. So they covered it with Elastoplast and there was nothing else to do but take it. And take it they did.

Marshall took three wickets that evening, and four more when play resumed on Mon- day. England were out for 159, West Indies won by ten wickets, and went on to win the five-match series 5-0; it was the famous Blackwash. And it was a majestic example of the judicious use of terror.

Malcolm's genius took the form of a lightning appreciation of the weaknesses of any given batsman, and a ruthless ability to exploit them. The bouncer was only the most spectacular example of this, the weak- ness of fear only the most stridently obvi- ous. He was not a bully, nor even terribly theatrical, but he was certainly fearful. These three things have left him perhaps a trifle underestimated, as if someone that heavily reliant on fear could not really have been that great.

But all fast bowlers use fear as a weapon; Marshall was simply the best at it. He had plenty of other weapons: skill, accuracy, an unbelievably fast arm and a superb cricket brain. But his abiding image will be Mar- shall, master of fear.