Remembering Malcolm: ‘Friend’ and a ‘giver’ who can never be forgotten
He arrived as a raw talent, became a world beater, made friends for life and suddenly left them with moistened eyes and a void that they have never been able to fill. That’s Malcolm Marshall for you. He is forever embedded in the soul of Hampshire cricket and in the memory of those who saw him run in from the ridge at the Old Northlands Road ground.
The imposing new stadium which is off city limits became operational in the early 2000 and probably doesn’t give an idea what the ‘Bajan’ meant for the club for whom he took 1000 wickets in the Championship.
“Malcolm and I were very close and it was wonderful. He was the best friend I had in cricket,” said Mark Nicholas, now a renowned commentator and back then Marshall’s captain at the Hampshire county.
“Northlands Road was a very small and personal ground. It was a good ground for batsmen even though there was this little ridge (little hilltop) at one end. Malcolm would bowl into that ridge effectively,” he reminisced.
As Nicholas, who is one of the most respected voices in the game, spoke between his two live commentary stints during India versus Afghanistan game, one could sense that the loss is very personal even after 20 years.
He gave a bit of idea what county cricket was all about with duels between Marshall and Viv Richards or Gordon Greenidge’s imposing presence in the change room.
“When Malcolm Marshall arrived you knew from where he has come from. Barbados was a small island, people knew each other and were friendly. The cricketers certainly knew each other and valued each other. He blended very well and we adored him and he adored us,” said Nicholas, who scored more than 18,000 first-class runs.
Nicholas sported an indulgent smile as he termed a young Marshall “splendidly naive”.
“Once, it was damn cold in Derby in one of his first games. We had to go and buy him woollen socks and jumpers and trousers and all that. I think he quickly adapted to life here. He was keen to embrace living in Hampshire. He bought a house,” he said.
In a space of four to five years, he became the best fast bowler of his time with every skill in his armoury.
“He began by bowling sort of awesomely fast with a whippy action. He then developed his skills. Once he had perfected the outswinger, he moved to perfect the inswinger. By about 1984-85, he had about everything – stamina, pace, control, movement, fantastic bowling brain.
“He had deep knowledge, almost frenzied in his investigations for opposition players, he shared with us. He was the best ally that a captain could dream of. It’s always good for a skipper if the fast bowler is on your side,” Nicholas recollected those days in the mid-80’s.
“So how much did Marshall make during his best days in county cricket?” .
“May be 20,000 pounds or may be 25,000,” said Nicholas.
That’s an amount which is perhaps lesser than what an average Indian domestic cricketer makes after landing the lowest base price contract in the IPL.
You raise that point to Nicholas and he laughs. “He obviously played more days of cricket than you play in the IPL, for sure.” So how was the battle between Richards and Marshall at the county level? “I think Malcolm had the better of Viv when he was with Somerset. But at Glamorgan, I think Viv won some great battles. One I remember was at the Northlands when he scored a hundred and 80 odd to win it for Glamorgan.” But what Nicholas found endearing in Marshall was his ability to read people and care for them.
“He was very thoughtful about other people. He was never loud or bombastic. He cared about people. He would often say to me if so and so is very quiet, he would tell me “have you thought about talking to him (that person),” Nicholas spoke as if it was yesterday.
Nicholas vividly remembers how Dr Rudi Webster was massively worried with Marshall’s ill-health during the 1999 World Cup and at first nothing could be detected at the beginning. He was the West Indies coach in that World Cup. “He had earlier been checked out in the middle of the World Cup but they didn’t find anything untoward. Malcolm thought he had a tear in his intercostal muscle while bowling in the nets. Since they didn’t find any tear, they didn’t look for anything else.
“Had they done some more tests at that stage, they could have cured it and by the time the cancer in the colon was detected, it was too late. He was gone in a relatively short time,” the pain was palpable.
“I gave eulogy at his memorial service in Barbados and the outpouring was incredible. It didn’t matter where you looked, there was genuine shock at his passing,” he said.
His parting lines were heart wrenching.
“He was a giver. Never to be forgotten,” said Nicholas as he left for business as usual.