One of Malcolm Marshall’s last wishes was to see the West Indies team “listen and learn”. Days before succumbing to colon cancer at the age of 41 in 1999, Marshall who would have turned 49 on April 18 had he been alive had detected this shortcoming in the team he coached in the World Cup that year.
The world has changed since, so has cricket, but Marshall’s wish has not come true.
A day after Brian Lara’s team was stroked out of the first ever World Cup in the Caribbean, it was probably a little insensitive to probe how arguably the greatest fast bowler from the region is remembered, though it was worth the trouble.
Whenever the Barbadians are reminded of Marshall, they pause for a while, let the grief sink in yet again, and then say in a soaked voice that there would be none like him. From the common man on the street to the Barbados Cricket Association officials to his near ones, this one sentiment runs through all.
It was kind of strange to see Michael Marshall run a seemingly low-profile shop in a nondescript part of Bridgetown, where a portrait of the late fast bowler is the only reminder of the fact that he was the elder brother of the proprietor. Michael deals in grocery items ranging from beer to detergent bars.
“He would drop in at times in this shop and that would invariably lead to a buzz around the place,” the 45-year-old said without showing a trace of emotion. “I run this shop out of my own resources and it’s not that Malcolm helped me set it up. It’s been 13 years that I have been at it.”
The voice of the man who does not quite feel like his illustrious brother, however, trembled when asked how great a loss it was.
“We were shell-shocked. It was something you never expected. I can’t believe it even today,” Michael’s voice belied the stern look on his face, betraying a sadness that usually comes from deep within one’s self.
The picture of the bowler, who first mesmerised and then demolished all the batting line-ups that he came across in his playing days, came up at Michael’s shop after he was no more.
“It’s like a shrine, I can’t explain what it means to me,” said Michael, the only other child their mother Elinor had with her second husband.
Marshall’s widow Connie, with whom he lived for over 10 years before they married just two months before he passed away, stays here as well, though she does not like to interact with “strangers”. Their son Mali and daughter Shelly also live in Bridgetown, as does Elinor.
It was strange again to see that this country, with a seemingly endless list of cricket luminaries whose names are seen at almost every second junction, does not have a road or even a crossing named after Marshall. Garry Sobers and Frank Worrell are visible on this count, though the common man associates with the fast bowler much more easily.
A Caribbean under-15 competition is named after him and the best allrounder in the first-class tournament gets a trophy bearing his name, but the only real remnant of Marshall in his homeland is a dilapidated bust at the Parkinson’s Higher Secondary School, where he studied.
Of course, he has not been forgotten he is far too big, important and still so present to be lost in memory — but the island known to appreciate cricket and cricketers like none other could perhaps have done better in terms of treasuring one who deserved to be immortalised. Maybe this will be done before it is too late.