Geoff Marsh, the opening batsman who formed an essential part of the resurgence of Australian cricketer in the 1980s, was born on December 31, 1958.Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the first player to win the World Cup as both cricketer and coach.
If you had started watching cricket in the 2000s, you might not have been able to relate to Geoff Marsh. To begin with, he was not a great treat to watch; he was not your everyday flamboyant strokeplayer. His Test record of 2,854 runs from 50 Tests at 33.18 does not make great reading.
However, Marsh was important. Playing for Western Australia, he had learnt cricket the hard way, and had trained himself to put a significant price tag on his wicket. When the simultaneous retirements of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh meant that Australian cricket had to pass through the famine of good cricketers in the mid-1980s, Marsh was one of the cricketers who led the resurgence. Indeed, he added 1,980 runs with David Boon at the top in 47 innings at 45.00. When Mark Taylor came along, Boon shifted to No 3, and Marsh combined with Taylor to add 1,871 runs from 41 innings at 46.77.
Nothing exemplified his dour attitude more than his gutsy 138 at Trent Bridge in 1989 when Marsh and Taylor became the first pair to bat through an entire day on English soil; they ended the day at 301 without loss. They eventually went on to add 329, going past the Ashes record of 323 put up by Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes.
Marsh fared significantly better in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), scoring 4,357 runs from 117 matches at 39.97. He was instrumental in Australia’s successful World Cup campaign in 1987, scoring 110 against India and an unbeaten 126 against New Zealand. He often rose above his otherwise dogged style, scoring an aggressive 125 off 121 balls against Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, and handled the West Indies pace battery, scoring consecutive hundreds in the West Indies tour of 1990-91.
He ended his career in 1992. By the time he had quit, Australia had risen from the depths of the mid-1980s to challenge West Indies as the leading Test side in world cricket. However, Marsh’s job was far from over.
He took over from Bobby Simpson as coach of Australia in 1996. Though Australia had already taken over as the new Test champions after the unofficial world championship Test title in West Indies a couple of years back, their ODI performances were still not up to the desired mark.
Marsh’s tenure saw a significant rise of Australian cricket in both formats; the quintessential Ashes victories were there, but there were also wins against West Indies and a victory on Pakistan soil. However, he is mostly remembered for winning the 1999 World Cup. After early defeats against New Zealand and Pakistan, Australia made an unbelievable turnaround, going into a long streak of wins and ultimately raised the World Cup. The unbeaten trend continued for the next two World Cups as well.
After a brief stint as an Australian selector he was appointed as the coach of Zimbabwe in 2001, but quit in 2004. It is rumoured that he had quit because of the political circumstances. After that he continued to coach regional sides. He was appointed as the coach of Sri Lanka in September 2011, but after the dismal performance against South Africa he was sacked and replaced by Graham Ford in four months.
His sons, Shaun and Mitchell, have both gone on to represent Australia in various formats. They have both shown promise as budding cricketers, but they will not become characters as colourful as their father: Boon, his long-time roommate, had often reported that he used to wake up in the hotel room to find Marsh undergoing shadow practice in the nude! Or the fact that he disliked Boon’s reading so much that he had once shredded a novel Boon was reading. And then probably went on to form one of those partnerships on the field. Their camaraderie was never hampered by these off-field eccentricities.
No, they don’t make characters like that anymore.