Rod Marsh obituary | Australia cricket team


The words “caught Marsh, bowled Lillee” encompassed a world of cricketing pain for batsmen during the 1970s and 80s, as the ferociously fast Australian bowler Dennis Lillee combined with the stockily acrobatic wicketkeeper Rod Marsh to claim more Test match victims – 95 in total – than any other pairing in history.

Marsh, who has died aged 74, was the perfect tough sidekick for Lillee, with whom he shared a scowling, moustachioed Aussie pugnaciousness and a ferocious will to win. While Lillee stood menacingly with the ball at the end of his run, incoming batsmen could expect to be met with a pithy comment or two from Marsh about the future likelihood of their need for emergency dental work or a prolonged spell sampling hospital food.

Even if Lillee failed to deliver on such prophecies, there were good odds on a snick going through to Marsh’s gloves as another statistic was added to the pile. “I’ve played with Dennis so much that most of the time I know what he’s going to do before he’s bowled,” Marsh once said. The number of their Test victims was matched by a more or less equal total of dismissals for Western Australia, for whom they played in further deadly combination when not on international duty.

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During a Test career that ran from 1971 to 1984, Marsh was responsible for more than 350 dismissals – a world record at the time and still the fourth highest tally ever. Although his thickset build was not ideally suited to duties behind the stumps, he was superbly nimble in all facets and at his most impressive when diving full length to retrieve a wayward delivery or take a spectacular catch.

Rod Marsh batting for Australia in the fifth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, Manchester, August 1981.
Rod Marsh batting for Australia in the fifth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, Manchester, August 1981. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Complementing his athleticism with fierce concentration and a natural belligerence, after a shaky start at international level he was able to make himself into one of the most admired keepers in the history of the game. In addition he was a more than useful left-handed batsman whose stock in trade was the forceful rearguard action lower down the order.

Later on he made a successful transition into coaching and administration, including as head of the Australian Cricket Academy and, in a surprise move, as a selector for the old enemy, England.

Born in Perth, Western Australia, to Ken, a truck driver, and Barbara, Marsh went to Kent Street senior high school, captaining the Western Australia schoolboys’ team at 13 and playing for West Perth’s first XI as a specialist batsman at an early age.

He made his first-class debut for Western Australia a year before Lillee in 1968, batting at No 5, and when he was picked for his first Test in Brisbane against England in 1970, again just prior to Lillee, it was as much for his batting as his wicketkeeping.

Rod Marsh, centre, as head of the England and Wales Cricket Board National Academy, with his players during a one-day match in Adelaide, Australia, in November 2001.
Rod Marsh, centre, as head of the England and Wales Cricket Board National Academy, with his players during a one-day match in Adelaide, Australia, in November 2001. Photograph: Tony Lewis/Allsport

Marsh had a disconcerting start to his Test career with the gloves, dropping several chances in his early games and earning himself the derogatory nickname “Iron Gloves” in the press. But his batting was more successful, and in his fourth Test, in Melbourne in 1971, he made 92 not out, only missing out on a century because the skipper, Bill Lawry, declared the innings closed. Against Pakistan at Adelaide in 1972 he became the first Australian wicketkeeper to hit a century – 118 – and by then, through hard work and application, he had begun to put his keeping mistakes firmly behind him.

As Marsh’s confidence grew, so too did his combativeness, particularly in harness with Lillee but also, from 1972 onwards, with another aggressive fast bowling figure in Jeff Thomson. Any good Test wicketkeeper would have profited from working with such a fine opening bowling partnership, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone other than Marsh serving them with such memorable and feisty impact.

Despite his gladiatorial nature, however, Marsh’s bark was often worse than his bite, and he was capable of great sportsmanship. In the Centenary Test between Australia and England at Melbourne in 1977, with England going well and Derek Randall in imperious form on 161, a ball from Greg Chappell took the edge of Randall’s bat and Marsh tumbled to hold the catch. When the umpire Tom Brooks gave Randall out, the Englishman began to walk back to the pavilion to a standing ovation, until Marsh stepped in to tell Brooks that he had failed to catch the ball cleanly, bringing the batsman back to continue his innings. It was a heart-warming moment that did much to soften the pantomime villain image he had acquired among many England supporters.

Rod Marsh behind the wicket as Ray Illingworth bats for England in the fourth Test of the 1970-71 Ashes series, Marsh’s debut season for Australia.
Rod Marsh behind the wicket as Ray Illingworth bats for England in the fourth Test of the 1970-71 Ashes series, Marsh’s debut season for Australia. Photograph: Press Association

Marsh’s last match, against Pakistan in Sydney in January 1984, was also Lillee’s swansong, and they walked off the field together. In 96 Tests he had claimed 355 dismissals, including 12 stumpings, and had a batting average of 26.51, with three hundreds. He also played in 92 one-day internationals, where his aggressive batting was especially useful, and was one of the rebel Australian players who spent two years out of the mainstream game playing for Kerry Packer’s rival World Series cricket circus between 1977 and 1979. In all first-class cricket he was responsible for 803 dismissals with a batting average of 31.17.

Post-retirement Marsh had a spell as a cricket commentator for Channel Nine (1986-90) before becoming coach and director of the Australian Cricket Academy (1990-2001). There he helped bring through a generation of world-conquering players, including Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. In late 2001 he was a surprise appointment to a similar job heading the England and Wales Cricket Board National Academy, the following year also becoming a Test selector and holding both roles until he left in 2005, having helped England to regain the Ashes.

Later he had a consultancy role with the South Australian Cricket Association and spent time as head coach of the global ICC cricket academy in Dubai before being appointed in 2011 to a newly created post overseeing the entire cricket coaching network in Australia. He served as chairman of the Australia selectors for two years from 2014.

Made MBE in 1981, Marsh was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

He is survived by his wife, Roslyn, a PE teacher whom he married in 1969, their sons, Dan, Jamie and Paul, and his brother, Graham, the former European Tour golfer.

Rod (Rodney) William Marsh, cricketer, born 4 November 1947; died 4 March 2022



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