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Born July 4, 1895, Eric Marx was a capable all-rounder who played three Tests with moderate success. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a man whose promising First-Class lasted a mere two seasons because he never got days off.
It was ironic that Waldemar Frederick Eric Marx (the only cricketer of that surname to play Tests) was born on American Independence Day and could not play cricket because he was not granted vacations. Had it been Karl, he might have done something about rights at work, but one can only guess his approach towards life was more of Groucho’s.
A confident, hard-hitting southpaw, Marx scored 656 First-Class at 41.00 runs (with two hundreds) from a career that lasted only nine matches. He was also a military-medium paced bowler, and his 13 wickets came at 30.92. From three Tests, all in the 1921-22 home series against Australia, he returned a haul of 125 runs at 20.83 and four wickets at 36.00.
Born in Johannesburg, Marx went on to study at Malvern College, England — and made a mark against Repton School at their den when he picked up five wickets in the second innings. World War II broke out when he was in his teens, and he had to wait till the end of The War to resume playing cricket.
He made his maiden First-Class appearance for Transvaal against Griqualand West and started with what turned out to be the most famous innings of his career. In a phase of violent batting at Old Johannesburg that lasted for 225 minutes, Marx slammed 240 with 39 fours and a six, thus breaking Tom Marsden’s record of 227 onFirst-Class debut (Amol Muzumdar, with 260 in 1993-94, is the only one to have bettered Marx’s score).
He added 119 more against Orange Free State later that season, and started the next season by top-scoring with 65 against Herbie Collins’ Australians (the attack consisted of Jack Gregory, Ted McDonald, Arthur Mailey, Charlie Macartney, and Stork Hendry), and was selected for all three Tests.
Marx made his debut alongside Buster Nupen, Charlie Frank, and William Ling at Lord’s, Durban. Herbie Taylor gave Marx first over after Collins batted but took him off after three overs. Marx scored a duck in the first innings, but had Macartney caught-behind in Australia’s third innings.
Collins set South Africa a huge 392, and Taylor promoted Marx to three after Tommy Ward was bowled by Gregory for a duck. Marx grafted a 53-minute 28, and some gutsy performances down the order helped South Africa save the Test: they finished on 184 for seven.
Batting first again at Old Wanderers, Collins scored a double-hundred — but was eclipsed by Gregory’s furious 85-minute 119 (the 70-minute hundred still remains the fastest in Test history). Marx took some pounding, but finished with three for 85 — dismissing Warren Bardsley, Johnny Taylor, and Bert Oldfield.
South Africa were left reeling at 16 for three, but Taylor and Dave Nourse added 79 for the fourth wicket, following which Marx arrived at the crease. He scored a 72-minute 36 with five fours, and after South Africa followed-on, he added another 70-minute 34 that was instrumental in saving the Test after hundreds from Frank and Nourse.
It came down to the third Test at Newlands, where McDonald and Mailey skittled out the hosts for 180, Marx being stumped off the latter. Australia secured a 216-run lead (opening bowling, Marx sent down seven overs without a wicket). South Africa managed exactly that amount as Marx fell for 16, and Australia won by ten wickets.
Marx took up a job with a mine in East Rand, which did not sanction him days off to play cricket; the job effectively ended his First-Class career. He played one more First-Class match that season against Natal at home, scoring a duck and 23 and adding two wickets to his tally.
When England toured South Africa next season they played a match against East Rand at Benoni. Marx scored two and 13 not out and sent down five overs, but the match was not given First-Class status. It remained his final recorded appearance.
Marx moved to Durban in his final days, and passed away on June 2, 1974, just over a month short of his 79th birthday.
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