Cricket

Rod Marsh: The baggy green brigadier and guardian of Australia’s Test cricket culture | Australia cricket team

ROdney Marsh was a popular and talismanic figure in Australian cricket for over 50 years – as a player, commentator, coach, manager and administrator. With his walrus mustache, bandaged street fighter hands and grizzled wit, he came to embody an era of hairy, thirsty, newly professional modern gamblers.

As Test wicketkeeper from 1971 to 1984, Marsh was Australia’s field marshal, setting the tone for energy and effort, and upping the ante when necessary, whether with a word dry but devastating in a drummer’s ear or a cryptic gesture at a fast. bowler at the top of his run-up. Although it hurt him deeply to never lead his country, this tactical sense and sense of the game and his players made him a notable success as an academy coach all over the world.

Marsh’s great-grandfather, Dan, had been sent to Australia in 1868 for manslaughter after a nighttime brawl in Derby, UK, resulted in the murder of a man. Although a coroner found no intention, Dan Marsh (after whom Rod named his son, later captain of Tasmania) spent five years in Fremantle Jail before establishing himself as a mainstay of the community of Geraldton.

Like his ancestor, Rodney Marsh’s fate has always been in his hands. “Mom wanted me to be a pianist,” he said to himself. “But I wanted to be in the game.”

Marsh first put on the wicketkeeper gear for Armadale’s eight-year-old Under-16s. Even then tough as old boots (he didn’t own shoes until he was 10), he had honed his game in fierce ‘tests’ against his brother Graham (a future golf star) with the father Ken urging them. Both boys were state cricketers, but Rod progressed faster, captaining Western Australia at 13 and scoring 104 on his state debut in 1968-69 against a West Indian attack from Hall, Griffiths and Sobers.

Despite an appetite for local crayfish and Swan Lager, Marsh was appointed Test Keeper in 1970-71. It was a controversial decision. Marsh was a hitter first, goalie second. But a shrewd panel led by Sir Donald Bradman knew the days of sleights and stumps were waning. The 1970s were to be an era of rhythm. Thus began the career of Marsh, the original all-around hitter-keeper and role model for Gilchrist, Dhoni, Boucher and Sangakkara.

After a few early escapes, critics dubbed Marsh “Iron Gloves.” But he showed his steel by blasting 92 steps on his fourth Test, a then-record tally for an Australian keeper. Additionally, by not complaining about Captain Bill Lawry’s declaration so close to a century old, Marsh established his trademark “team first,” a code that earned him the undying loyalty of his teammates and teammates. fan love.

England's Geoff Boycott attempts to sweep as Marsh watches Cricket during a Test from the Ashes at SCG in 1971.
England’s Geoff Boycott attempts to sweep as Marsh watches Cricket during a Test from the Ashes at SCG in 1971. Photography: PA Pictures

In the final test of this first series, Marsh had surprised John Hampshire bowling another young beginner, a certain Dennis Lillee. It was the first of 95 “catch Marsh, shun Lillee” layoffs in the next 13 years. The couple had been friends since 1966, when Marsh was a trainee teacher at the University Club and Lillee was on the outs with his Perth rivals. “I know it by the way he runs; the angle and speed, where it hits the crease, where the ball will go.

England fans got their first look at Marsh when he bagged five catches and plundered 91 leads, including 60 inbounds in 1972. He ended the streak with 23 kills, a new record for Ashes Tests. Back home, he scored his best ever, 236 for Western Australia, then hit 118 for Australia against Pakistan, making Marsh the first Australian goalkeeper to hit a ton of Test. He was to score two more, 132 against New Zealand in 1973-74 and a match-winning 110 in the 1977 Centenary Test at the MCG, a run he went on to rate as his best.

Ever loyal, Marsh joined his friends by joining World Series Cricket in 1978. It doubled his income (still a tenth of what Graham earned on the PGA Tour) and his marketability, as Marsh put his name to books and endorsements (the weirdest was tagged: “What does Rod Marsh do with his Vaseline?”)

But it came at a cost to his wife Roslyn and their sons. “The early days of WSC were really hard on the family…there were some nasty phone calls.” This too, according to Marsh, cost him the title of captain. It hurt him – and the team. Kim Hughes never beat old war dogs Lillee and Marsh and their dissent was evident in the 500-1 bet they took under his captaincy in 1981, a sour dividend when Ian Botham won England the impossible at Headingley.

Marsh chats with Shane Watson at Lord's in 2015.
Marsh chats with Shane Watson at Lord’s in 2015. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Like many of the era, Marsh had a thing for a ‘malt sandwich’ or three… or 43 (the flight to England in 1977) or 45 (en route to the 1983 World Cup). Such excesses may have had an impact on his stick – he averaged 33 in the first half of his career, 19 in the second – but his stick has improved by leaps and bounds.

Marsh’s goalie dives and sky-scratching catches, loud calls and smiley celebrations made for pyrotechnic TV. He was still able to cut short balls, throw half volleys and pop bats too. In a 1980-81 ODI he plundered three sixes, two fours and 26 runs from the Lance Cairns final.

Marsh was also a guardian of baggy green culture and a key master of its consciousness. It was he who first co-opted Henry Lawson’s 1887 poem, Flag of the Southern Cross, into the Australian team’s victory song, albeit with a very Marsh modification (“Australia, little beauty ‘ became “you’re fucking bewdy!”). Marsh crossed his arms and shook his head at captain Greg Chappell, mouthing “Don’t do it” when the underarm ball fell in 1981.

Until the end, he was defiant. “I’m going to give these young guys something to chase,” Marsh said in 1984, his final season. He did – 355 test dismissals. And as founding manager of the Australian (1990-2001) and England (2001-05) academies, he also gave young players something – and someone – to revere.