It was the summer of 1970. Brisbane was hot and sunny and the demands of Test cricket, as usual, were high – more so for the wicket-keeper. In their last series against South Africa, Australia lost 4-0 and it was partly due to lackluster fielding display – dropping as many as 29 catches in the entire series. Brian Taber, the wicket-keeper in that series, was made the scapegoat and was dropped. The man replacing him was Rodney William Marsh, 23, who was the youngest Australian keeper to make his Test debut.
Nervous Marsh dropped dollies at Brisbane – his first Test match and the Australian fan rant became vociferous about dropping this one Test old upstart. Marsh was insecure about his position in the team, but equally determined to do the necessary drills in order to eliminate his faults and become an indispensable member of the Australian team.
The benchmark for the keepers during that time was Alan Knott of England, who was agile, fit and very particular about his technique as a glove-man. There were a lot of talks about Marsh’s weight issues, although Marsh had reduced a lot of weight ever since he made his first class debut for Western Australia. The Sydney crowd booed Marsh and wanted their local lad Taber in the team. It is ironic that Marsh played his final Test at Sydney and the crowd showered a lot of love for the big mustachioed man in 1984. So what had happened in those 14 years?
The selectors kept their faith on Marsh after his first series as a wicket-keeper. Marsh became more confident of his keeping ability and displayed a good technique against some of the fastest bowlers of the 1970s. Playing for the Australian team against the Rest of the World side was a special occasion for Marsh. It was here where Marsh’s ability behind the stumps got noticed. When Marsh dived to his right and caught Clive Llyod, it was absolutely sensational. All the talks about Marsh’s inadequacies as a wicket-keeper disappeared.
The improvement in the standards of keeping was visible in Marsh when Ian Chappell’s team arrived in England in 1972. In 1974-75 and 1975-76, Australia scored victories over England and West Indies respectively. Marsh had 45 dismissals in his tally, including the record 26 catches in six Test matches against West Indies.
Marsh used to stand far behind when Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee, the fastest and the most lethal opening bowling combination of Australia, bowled. The reason for this ploy from Marsh was to get the maximum lateral movement, thus allowing the first slip to stand wider and hence allowing the arc behind the batsman as wide as possible.
The Australian slip fielding was one of the best in the world ever since the inception of Test cricket. In Marsh’s generation, he had the likes of Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Doug Walters and Ian Redpath accompanying him in the slip cordon and Ashley Mallet being a specialist gully fielder. Almost everything that was edged behind the wicket was caught. The bowlers, hence, bent their backs and bowled with a lot of purpose with the sole aim of finding the edge of the batsman’s bat.
Caught Marsh bowled Lillee – A cricketing folklore
Lillee ran up with the intention of intimidating the batsman – the warrior like run, the groan, the effort to bowl as fast as possible and on many occasions producing absolute screamers. But something was incomplete – somebody needed to catch the ball behind the wicket in order to complete the act of snapping up a wicket. The Marsh-Lillee partnership got noticed and is one of the glorious chapters in the annals of history.
The term “caught Marsh bowled Lilliee” is one of the most famous cricketing partnerships in the history of cricket. This event occurred 95 times, which is a world record. At Headingley in 1981, Marsh became the most successful wicket-keeper in the history of Test cricket when he caught Ian Botham off the bowling off Dennis Lillee, surpassing Alan Knott’s record of 263 victims. “I learnt a tremendous amount by watching Alan Knott,” said Marsh.
Marsh as a batsman
Marsh was termed as a dasher in the early part of his Test career. But there was a method behind that madness. His performances with the bat were useful on more than one occasion. Marsh averaged 35.32 in Test cricket after the 1975-76 series against West Indies. In the second half of his career, Marsh’s batting average plummeted, but he did play some useful innings:
- The Centenary Test match against England was a special match for Marsh. He surpassed Wally Grout’s record of 187 dismissals in Test matches and also became the first Australian wicket-keeper to score a century against England.
- In the fourth Test match of his career, Marsh was eyeing his maiden Test hundred batting on 92 when Australian skipper Bill Lawry declared the innings.
- When Marsh scored 118 (his maiden Test hundred) against Pakistan at Adelaide, he became the first Australian wicket-keeper to score a Test hundred.
World Series Cricket (WSC)
Marsh signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket and claimed 54 dismissals in 16 super Tests. Several wicket-keepers like Steve Rixon, John McLean and Kevin Wright replaced Marsh in the Australian team. But no one could fix his position. Marsh was missed. After the WSC fiasco, Marsh donned the Baggy Green in 1979-80.
In 1981, Marsh became the first player to score 3000 runs, breaking Knott’s record and became the first keeper to record hundred dismissals in the Ashes.
The 1982-82 series against England was his penultimate last series. Marsh recorded 28 dismissals.
Marsh’s batting deteriorated towards the end of his career but he was still Australia’s best wicket-keeper.
Ninety-six Test matches is a commendable job for this lad from Western Australia, who was included in the team when it was least expected. Marsh’s Test career embodies his bundle of talent, longevity, fitness and determination to succeed.
Marsh v the rest of the Australian wicketkeepers:
|Jack Blackham (1877-94)||32||800||15.68||35||24||59|
|Sammy Carter (1907-21)||28||873||22.97||44||21||65|
|Roger Wo0lley (1983-84)||2||21||10.50||7||0||7|
*Billy Murdoch has played 19 Test matches but he kept wickets in only one match against England in 1881-82.
*Affie Jarvis played as a batsman in two Test matches because Jack Blackham kept wickets in Australia’s tour of England in 1888.
To check the rest of the list of the greatest wicketkeepers of all time, click here.