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Roy Marshall: The Hampshire giant who kept English cricket alive in their dullest days

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Roy Marshall scored 143 runs in four Tests at 20.42 for the West Indies © Getty Images

Hampshire legend Roy Marshall was born on April 25, 1930. In an era when negative bowling and slow batting had pushed County Championship to its doldrums, Marshall was among the few who attracted spectators by virtue of his aggressive batsmanship. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the third-highest First-Class run-scorer among non-Englishmen.

Roy Edwin Marshall was not even the greatest Marshall from West Indies to play for Hampshire: that honour would go to Malcolm. There is a difference, though: while Malcolm Marshall is remembered as a legendary fast bowler who had played for West Indies and took up a contract with Hampshire, Roy will always be a Hampshire legend who played a handful of Tests for West Indies.

Roy Marshall was one of those men who had drawn spectators the County Championship in its dullest days of 1960s when bowlers were hell-bent on containing defensive batsmen on dead pitches. The negative cricket that had taken the fun factor and intensity out of the Championship had marked a steep decline in the interest of the public towards cricket. It was not expected of someone with a not-so-burly physique and thick glasses.

Wisden wrote of Marshall: “Roy Marshall was always in a hurry, rather like a nervous man hell-bent on catching a train. He did it with an apologetic shrug, implying he preferred the quiet life. But an afternoon at Southampton or Dean Park could never be too somnolent when he was at the wicket. It was invariably joyful. He made spectators gasp at his daring, sigh at his consummate fluency on good days.”

Scyld Berry echoed the opinion in Marshall’s obituary for The Independent: “It can be argued that Roy Marshall did more than any other cricketer of his generation to save the county game from atrophy. It was not just that he scored 35,725 First-Class runs, mainly for Hampshire, but that he made them with the greatest enterprise at a time — the Fifties and Sixties — when the county game had forgotten that it was an entertainment, and was in danger of becoming defensive to the point of sterility.”

Wisden added: “[Roy] Marshall was the county’s most hypnotic player. Members’ wives dropped their knitting. He created an instant frisson; they loved the way this gentle cavalier set to work to impose his mastery over the best bowlers on the county circuit.” After he took some unconventional clobbering, Frank Tyson once commented wryly: “All right. Let’s have all the fielders out and we’ll play baseball.”

Like all aggressive men, Marshall could not be kept away from the thick of the action. He hated waiting for his turn to bat. “He [Marshall] simply could not endure the stress of waiting,” mentioned, John Arlott. Marshall feelings concurred with Arlott’s — he was just as impatient: “I am not ashamed to say that there have been many occasions in my life when I have been frightened as I went out to face a fast bowler for the first time in a match. The plain truth is that I just cannot bear hanging round.”

Gideon Haigh wrote in Silent Revolutions: “Roy Marshall felt that cricket contained two kinds of madman: the fast bowler, because he expended his energies so wildly and thriftlessly; but also the opening batsman, for it required another species of lunacy to deal with madman of one’s own volition.”

Marshall and Jimmy Gray were never a pair as formidable as Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards — the Hampshire pair who tormented bowlers all over the circuit. And yet, when it comes to Hampshire cricket, it is Marshall who is remembered more fondly by the old-timers: he was, after all, a rebel in an era that had given in to slumber.

Gray himself was in awe: “Roy [Marshall] forced us all to re-think the way we played our cricket…He proved it was possible to attack and be successful.” He added that Marshall “was a lovely batsman to watch and I had the best seat in the ground. It was such a waste that he didn’t play more Test cricket.” Gray thought he could have played 60 Tests, and was way better than the contemporary English openers (the selection committee had even considered Fred Titmus as an opener).

There was one weakness, though: he hated running. “If you batted with Roy, you were never sprinting ones,” said Gray. Marshall once told Peter Richardson on his face: “I’m not rushing up and down with you. You want to learn to hit the ball.” Even on the squash court he never moved, using his wrists and making the opposition run around.

A lot of that had to do with Marshall’s numbers too. From 602 First-Class matches Marshall had amassed 35,725 runs at 35.94 (one can add five to that for his contribution to the sport and uncovered pitches) with 68 hundreds. It puts him third on the all-time list of non-Englishmen, after Greenidge (37,354) and Viv Richards (36,212); it was obviously the highest at the time of his retirement.

In almost all aspects of batting he was next to only Phil Mead among Hants cricketers:

Hampshire toppers
Most runs Most 100s Most 50+ scores
Phil Mead 48,992 138 369
Roy Marshall 30,303 60 221

It is almost forgotten that Marshall was a more than handy off-spinner, finishing with 176 wickets at 28.93 with five five-fors. An amazingly versatile fielder, he also pouched 294 catches. Hampshire fans also regarded him as an astute captain. It is astonishing that he played only four Tests when West Indies were on the lookout for Conrad Hunte at the top of the order. He never got going at the top level, though, managing only 143 runs at 20.42.

Early days

The Marshalls — Norman (who played a solitary Test for West Indies, albeit after his younger brother) and Roy — were born in Farmers Plantation, a sugar estate in St. Thomas, Barbados. Their father was a white planter with Scottish origins; a keen sport enthusiast, he got pitches built on the plantation and had his farm hands bowl at him. By ten Marshall had achieved the technique to play on turf, mat, and concrete.

Roy was hailed as a prodigy at 12: even at that age he opened batting for Foundation School in the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Second Division. His father had him transferred to the Lodge School, which was undoubtedly one of the finest cricket nurseries of colonial Barbados. Marshall quickly moved on to BCA First Division. By the age of 15 he was playing trial matches for Barbados before their tour of Trinidad, and scores of 72 and 80 in a single match earned him a spot for the Barbados side.

Marshall’s opportunity came sooner than he had expected. With Frank Worrell pulling out due to a bout of influenza, a 16-year old Marshall made his First-Class debut against Trinidad at Queen’s Park Oval alongside Norman. The side boasted of the likes of Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, and “Foffie” Williams; batting at eight Marshall scored two.

He was relegated to twelfth man after Worrell’s return and gradually found himself out of the Barbados side. However, he scored runs by the hundreds, first for Lodge School and later for Wanderers Cricket Club. By this time it was established that he was not your quintessential opening batsman who would wait for the bowlers to tire out.

Keith Sandiford wrote: “He [Marshall] developed into a most unusual opening batsman, relishing the pace but aiming to remove the shine from the new ball as soon as possible. Roy played all the strokes in a classical manner but did so more violently than most and occasionally resorted to unorthodox methods to force the pace. His driving off either foot was most attractive and his pulls and cuts were beautiful to watch although they were executed with astonishing vigour for one so slim.”

His thundering square-cut was something, according to Wisden, “[Gordon] Greenidge went on to emulate around the same parishes of the Solent.” He also played “sublime” cover-drives, and when anything was bounced at him he was never afraid of playing the most arrogant of hooks.

Marshall missed out on First-Class cricket for three seasons, but the selectors could hardly be blamed for that. Not only did the three Ws dominate the batting line-up, but he also had to compete with Denis Atkinson, John Goddard, Keith Walcott, Charlie Taylor, and John Lucas.

He eventually found his way through, and what a comeback it was! He started with 149 (along with match figures of three for 48), followed by 110 run out and 57 in the next match — both against Trinidad at home. He started the next season with 191 (considered by the witnesses as the finest innings at Kensington Oval, Sandiford wrote) against British Guiana. As a result he was selected for the 1950 tour of England.

England: the first look

Marshall could not find a spot in the Tests: he was unfortunate in the sense that West Indies had two excellent openers in the form of Alan Rae and Jeffrey Stollmeyer, who could hardly be replaced; while Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine kept on bamboozling the hosts, the batsmen delivered consistently as well.

He made the most of his opportunities: the first big innings was a 135 against Hampshire (surely not a coincidence?) at Southampton. Wisden wrote: “His [Marshall’s] innings is considered to this day one of the finest ever played on the county ground. EDR [Desmond] Eagar, Hampshire’s secretary-captain, watched it from slip, and noted Marshall’s quality.”

He also managed 99 against Northamptonshire at Northampton, 188 against Leicestershire at Grace Road, and 143 against Surrey at The Oval. He finished the tour with 1,117 runs at 39.89. His decent showing helped him retain a spot for the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1951-52.

Test cricket

Marshall eventually made his debut in the first Test at The Gabba; with five specialist batsmen in the side (other than Walcott, who kept wickets) Marshall batted at seven and nine in the two innings, scoring 28 and 30, the second-innings score remaining his career-best. Chasing 236 Australia were reduced to 149 for five, but Graeme Hole and Ray Lindwall led them to a three-wicket triumph.

He was dropped for the next Test at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) (which West Indies lost convincingly), but was brought back at Adelaide. After Worrell and Goddard shot out the hosts for 82 on a rain-affected pitch Marshall added 25 with Stollmeyer; Bill Johnston then ran through West Indies, restricting them to a 23-run lead.

Arthur Morris reversed the batting line-up, and though Australia lost two wickets for 20 their batsmen, coming out late in the order, eventually set the hosts a target of 233. Having pulled a muscle while fielding, Marshall with Rae as the runner held one end up, allowing Stollmeyer do the scoring: together they added 72 in 103 minutes before the latter fell.

Marshall was eventually caught-behind off Ring, but a fifth-wicket stand between Gerry Gomez and Christiani stole the match for the tourists. Unfortunately, Marshall missed the last two Tests as the injury persisted: Australia won both and claimed the series 4-1.

The teams moved on to New Zealand. Set to chase 161 against Otago at Dunedin Marshall played an outrageous innings; the target was reached in 36.3 overs with Marshall remaining unbeaten on 102. Selected for the first Test at Lancaster Park he failed, managing 16 and 26 as West Indies won by five wickets.

Retained for the second and final Test at Eden Park, Marshall scored a duck when Worrell, Walcott, and Stollmeyer all scored hundreds (in addition to Rae’s 99 and Weekes’ 51). West Indies scored 546 for three, and rain helped New Zealand clinch a draw after they had followed-on. Marshall never played another Test. He would end up scoring 33,419 First-Class runs after playing his final Test — still a world record.

Roy Marshall had a fine career for Hmapshire County Club © Getty Images
Roy Marshall (batting in picture) had a fine career for Hampshire County team © Getty Images

The move to Hampshire

With the advent of the likes of John Holt, Bruce Pairaudeau, and Hunte, he knew that chances of him playing for West Indies were bleak. He also ran into disputes with “some of the senior Trinidadian members of the West Indian teams with which he toured in the early 1950s” (Sandiford). Though he knew that men playing overseas were not looked upon favourably by the West Indian selectors, he decided to take the plunge.

Marshall first shone when the Australians toured England in 1953: in their tour match at Southampton he picked up four for 69 (including Jim de Courcy, Ian Craig, Ron Archer, and Alan Davidson) before scoring 71 out of a team score of 148. He toured India with the Commonwealth XI next year and scored three consecutive fifties.

Marshall earned his Hampshire cap in 1955, a season where he crossed the 2,000-mark, scoring 2,115 runs at 37.76, picking up 28 wickets at 15.67. His first five-for, six for 57 against Gloucestershire at Portsmouth, came that season as well. He went past the 1955 tally three seasons later, scoring 2,118 at 39.22 with five hundreds.

The 1958 numbers were not outstanding, but it was not a high-scoring summer. Marshall scored 1,627 in the Championship, finishing next to only Martin Young (1,755) as Hampshire became runners-up in the Championship. It was their best performance till date. Marshall was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

Marshall’s entry in that season’s almanac read: “Hampshire’s batting these days is almost totally reliant on (Roy) Marshall. Yet responsibility has completely failed to dull his attacking instincts. Five- and six-hour centuries are anathema to him. It is not enough to fight an honourable draw with the bowling, he feels. It must be dominated, and right from the first ball he sets out to impose his mastery, with frequently spectacular results.”

It added: “[Roy] Marshall has no strict preference for any one type of bowling, but speed probably suits him best, if only because the ball reaches the boundary that much faster. Yet in conversation he declines to be described as a fast scoring batsman…Marshall has brought a spirit of adventure to Hampshire cricket, and cricket in general should be grateful.”

Winning the Championship, and later

1961 turned out to be a watershed season for Marshall. He scored 2,607 runs in the season at 43.45 with five hundreds. In the Championship itself he scored 2,455, finishing next to only Bill Alley (2,532). It was his batting and Derek Shackleton’s medium-paced bowling that helped Hampshire clinch their maiden Championship title.  Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie had placed a wager on Hampshire that season. As Haigh wrote, “he (Ingleby-Mackenzie) was influenced by one man alone [Marshall].”

Marshall’s form continued in 1962: he finished with 2,124 runs at 43.34 and six hundreds. This included a career-best of 228 not out at Bournemouth in a score of 368 for two, toying with the touring Pakistani attack. It remained the highest First-Class score by a Hampshire batsman in the decade.

He was named captain of Hampshire in 1966 — a role he carried out efficiently for five years. Wisden later praised his “tactical knowledge and leadership.” Captaincy took him to a different plane. “Just as he [Marshall] did not forgive his own shortcomings, he could not overlook those of others. He was always something of a perfectionist,” Arlott said.

He continued even after he stood down as captain. Hampshire gave him a benefit season in 1971; it was a huge success. He played the next season as well, and extending his First-Class career beyond the 27-year mark. Even at 42 he retained his old aggression, tearing into the Derbyshire bowling attack at Derby, scoring 203 out of 358 for eight. In his last First-Class match, against Yorkshire at Southampton, Marshall scored 23 and an unbeaten 69.

Post-retirement

After hanging up his boots Marshall, with his Manchester-born wife Shirley and three daughters, moved to coach at King’s College, Taunton and later ran a pub in the same city. Outside cricket his only true passions were his family and Frank Sinatra. He was later invited to become the Chairman of Somerset’s Cricket Committee, at which, as per Berry, Marshall “was a little bemused.” He took up the offer in an era following Richards’ sacking and Ian Botham’s resignation.

Berry added: “According to one player of the time, ‘He [Marshall] was a very good judge of cricketers,’ though not the sort of political animal to enjoy the machinations of committee work.” It was as true a statement as there was, for Marshall could not hide his feelings to save his life.

A quote of the man himself, mentioned by Haigh, would emphasise on this: “Being a white West Indian myself, the son of a planter and living a fairly sheltered life, I suppose I did grow up with slight racialist feelings. It was never anything that was said or done but just that I was brought up in a white man’s world and white men, at the time, probably ruled the day-to-day life in Barbados.”

He displayed a similar attitude towards opposition cricketers visiting the Hants dressing room. Haigh wrote: “[Roy] Marshall would fall quiet in the dressing room. He would tense up. He would dislike being spoken to. He would fiddle with his thick glasses, without which he stumbled round blindly. He was disturbed by [Fred] Trueman’s propensity for visiting the opposition dressing room before games. ‘Why doesn’t he get the hell out of here?’ Marshall would think. ‘What right has he got to come in here cracking jokes at this moment when in a few minutes’ time he’ll be trying to knock my head off?’”

He was diagnosed with skin cancer, which resulted in him losing an eye. In 1992 Marshall was honoured by BCA when they celebrated 100 years of organised cricket in Barbados. Four months later, on October 27, 1992 he passed away in a Taunton hospital at 62.

Hampshire County Cricket Club later had a road renamed to Marshall Drive, dedicated to both Roy and Malcolm. Roy Marshall’s grandson Gavin Armstrong later went on to play for Cumberland in the Minor Counties Championship.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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