Alan Marshall (did George Beldam intentionally get him to do the Victor Trumper pose?)    Getty Images
Alan Marshal (did George Beldam intentionally get him to do the Victor Trumper pose?) Getty Images

The dreaded cable had been addressed to Mrs Agnes Marshal, St Aubyns, Redcliffe, Queensland, widowed mother and next of kin of No. 163 Private A. Marshal, 15th Battalion. The distraught mother had written back to the War Office voicing her doubts about the veracity of the contents of the cable and objecting to the way her son s name had been spelled, all the while hoping against hope that there had been a case of mistaken identity.

The name had been stated as A. Marshall. Indignant even in her anxiety, Agnes Marshal had written: my son s name is Alan Marshal. A name that ought to be well known as he was famous both in England and Australia as a brilliant cricketer, as heart-wrenching and poignant a comment as can be imagined from a mother fearing the worst and still taking a possessive pride in her son s accomplishments. Alas, the reply from the War Office had confirmed her worst fears.

Son of Samuel Marshal of Lincolnshire and Australian beauty Agnes of Queensland, Alan was born on June 12, 1883 at Warwick, on the Darling Downs of Queensland. The family had then relocated to Brisbane when young Alan was about four.

Alan grew up playing cricket with his siblings in front of their house in Gladstone Road, South Brisbane. He was educated at South Brisbane State School and Brisbane Grammar School. He played for the First XIs of both institutions and showed promise of blossoming into a hard-hitting right handed middle-order batsman and a right arm fast-medium bowler.

Wisden informs us that the club cricket experience came rather early for Marshal. He played for many different clubs, beginning with Brooksteads (named after his father s house). He later played for Franklins and Cliftons, in time becoming the captain, secretary, treasurer and ground-keeper for the latter. He also played for the Graziers. This phase of his cricketing development proved to be very valuable as he came into contact with several well-established cricketers of the calibre of Percy McDonnell, Harry Boyle, Sam Jones, and Alfred Conningham. In the absence of any formal cricket coaching, Alan, a quick learner, absorbed what he could from watching these senior players at play and from whatever tips Jones would pass on to the younger members.

A short experience of the asphalt wickets at Manor School, however, seemed to put a temporary damper on his gradual evolution as a batsman. Marshal s B Grade cricket career began with South Brisbane Club when he was barely 14, and he soon began to relish the turf wickets. His technique and his batting average both improved at an impressive rate and it was not long before he was playing First Grade cricket. Before he moved to England in 1905, he had played one season of Grade cricket for Paddington, Sydney, and had played in one game in which the immortal Victor Trumper had scored a regal 324 for Paddington.

In time, Marshal grew to become a strong and tall (6 feet 2) young man blessed with more than the usual quota of stamina, even under the unforgiving Australian sun, and was ready for the rigours of First-Class cricket by the time he was 21. He made his First-Class debut playing for Queensland against New South Wales (NSW) at Brisbane in 1903-04. Queensland was a largely unfancied team at the time, and not yet admitted to Sheffield Shield. Consequently, the more fancied teams would often adopt a somewhat condescending attitude towards them. In this particular game, for instance, NSW had arrived with only 11 players for their northern game. Marshal happened to be one of six debutants in this game.

Queensland batted first, but the innings produced a mere 132. Skipper Monty Noble took 4 for 18 for NSW. Despite having a star-studded line-up, however, NSW fared rather poorly, folding up for 153, the last 4 wickets all falling at the same total. Unfortunately, Queensland were unable to make a match out of it: they were brushed aside for only 59 and NSW won quite easily by 9 wickets on the second day. Amidst all this mayhem, Marshal managed scores of 22 and 0 and, perhaps learnt a thing or two about cricket at the next higher level from his previous club and Grade experience.

Between 1903-04 and 1913-14 Alan Marshal played 119 First-Class matches, scoring 5,177 runs with a highest of 176 and an average of 27.98 (quite commendable, given the uncovered and under-prepared wickets of the time). He had 8 centuries and 31 fifties, and held 115 catches. His bowling fetched him 119 wickets. His best figures were 7 for 41 and he averaged 22.84, and he claimed 7 five-wicket hauls and a 10-wicket haul.

Marshal s inaugural First-Class match in England was for the Gentlemen of England against Oxford in 1905. Although he began on an inauspicious note by registering a duck in his very first innings on English soil, he did take 2 wickets in the first innings. He bowled better in the second, opening the attack with WG Grace and capturing 5 for 50. He also opened batting with Grace in the second innings and gave a good account of himself in a first-wicket stand of 168, matching the Champion stroke for stroke. Grace (71) was the first man dismissed while Marshal went on to score 94, establishing his credentials, as it were, with the Father of English cricket with regard to his all-round skills.

WG must have spotted enough cricketing potential in the new Australian playing his first season in England to induce him to join his London County team in 1905. A shrewd judge of a cricketer, WG seems to have made an inspired choice. Let us hear of Marshal s exploits with London County from Wisden:

– 1905: 2,752 run at 56.16, 118 wickets at 16.41

– 1906: 3,578 runs at 76.12, 167 wickets at 14.10

Wisden goes on to say that in all matches of 1906, Marshal is documented as having scored 4,350 runs, including 14 centuries, and taking 210 wickets. His top score was 300* against Croydon at Crystal Palace (he also scored 171 in the return game).

Marshal spent 1905 and 1906 playing in England to attain a residential qualification to play for Surrey. He made his Surrey debut against WG Grace s XI in 1907, scoring only 3 and not bowling. He scored a total of 1,065 runs in 1907 from his 32 matches at 24.76 and took 21 wickets. His only century was an innings of 111 against Worcestershire.

Marshal came into his own in 1908, scoring 1,931 runs from his 33 matches, with a highest of 176 (one of his 5 centuries), at an average of 40.22. His bag of wickets rose to 56 with best figures of 7 for 41, at 18.83. He had 5 five-wicket hauls in the season, and captured 7 for 41 and 5 for 32 against Derbyshire, at one point taking 5 for 0 in 13 deliveries. For Surrey alone he scored 1,884 runs at 40, finishing second only to Tom Hayward for the season. His other centuries in the season were 143 against Northamptonshire, 167 against Kent, and 103 against the Philadelphians.

His 108 (in 120 minutes, with 16 fours) against Middlesex at The Oval in this season established his reputation for being a powerful striker of the ball. Sun of October 1, 1915 speaks very highly of his 70 against the might of Yorkshire on a bad pitch at The Oval. Even the hardened WG had once thought that Marshal had had it in him to emulate the style and skills of the one and only Trumper. His additional skills as a change bowler and his excellence in the field in whatever position seemed to promise a bright future for him in English cricket.

Writing in the Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, Dick Lilley was all praise for the 176 Marshal had scored against Worcestershire. He went on to opine: Marshal is a fine all-round player, and as a batsman he reminds, me in style and method, of Australia s great batsman Victor Trumper . Marshal, besides being a fine hitter, also possesses a sound defence, and is most attractive to watch It may be remembered that Lilley used to be known for his cricket sagacity in his playing days, and was often sought out by his various captains for advice on matters of strategy on the field of play.

As an appreciation for his excellent performances in 1908, Wisden thought it fit to name him as a Cricketer of the Year in 1909, the citation being written by the revered Sydney Pardon, then Editor of Wisden. Not a man of excitable nature nor one given to hyperbole, this is Pardon s assessment of Marshal s capabilities: Secure of his place in the eleven he played his natural game and revealed himself as a driver rarely equalled for sheer power since the days of C. I. Thornton and Bonner. Some of his hits in the matches against Middlesex and Kent at the Oval, in August were, I think, beyond the capacity of any other batsman now playing in first-class cricket. Marshal has not Jessop s ability to score in all directions from bowling of all kinds of length, but with his immense advantages of height and reach-he must stand nearly 6ft 3ins.-he can certainly send the ball further. His fame will no doubt rest chiefly on his batting, but in every way he is a thorough cricketer. Place him where you will, there is no finer fieldsman to be found-he is about the safest catch in England.

Alas, he was not able to replicate this scintillating form in 1909. He did score 1,122 runs for Surrey, but his batting average (22.44) was way below his best. In all fairness to him, it must be stated that there were non-cricketing issues weighing very heavily on his mind during this phase of his career.

There is a shroud of mystery surrounding the alleged incident, and the details are somewhat hazy. Surrey had travelled to Chesterfield to take on Derbyshire in July, and won by an innings and 76 runs. Marshal, batting in the middle-order, had scored 27 in his only innings; so far, so good.

It was an off-field occurrence during Marshal s stay at Chesterfield for this match that had given rise to the problem. Although the Surrey Committee had been very tight-lipped about it, vague references to the alleged happening came to light 26 years later, in 1935 when the autobiography of Jack Hobbs was published. It must be said, however, that even Hobbs had not been able to give any first-hand account in his book, not being present at Chesterfield during the time.

It seems that Marshal and some of his (unspecified) teammates had been heading and kicking a ball about among themselves on the street while going back to their hotel. An overzealous police constable had accosted the group and asked Marshal for his name, information that Marshal had allegedly refused to divulge. One thing had led to another and Marshal and the others had been taken to the police station.

The case had been put up to the Chief Constable, but he, on mature consideration, had dismissed the issue, and the matter had not gone to the courts. Even so, the Surrey Committee seems to have taken a serious view of the incident and had suspended Marshal for a few matches in the 1909 season. The story can be corroborated from David Lemmon s The History of Surrey County Cricket Club, though the focus of the problem appears to be more to do with Marshal refusing to reveal his name (presumably because he did not think he had committed any misdemeanour) than with the group being rowdy on the public street.

Another thread in the sorry business may have been Richard Webster, 1st Viscount of Alverstone and the 4th Lord Chief Justice of England, who had also happened to be the President of the Surrey Committee at the time. Reputed to have been a strict disciplinarian and very much old school , he was a man with a known aversion for professional cricketers, and who had harboured hopes of fielding an all-amateur Surrey XI someday. It may have been coincidence that Marshal and Hobbs had been two young professionals of the time, though Hobbs had not played in the particular game as has been mentioned above.

Under a disciplinary cloud, Marshal s participation for Surrey in 1910 was restricted to only 6 matches. The Committee decided to terminate Marshal s contract at this point of the season. His last match in Surrey colours was in May.

Although his performances in the First-Class games of the season had not been up to his usual standards, there is record of his taking all 10 wickets for 28 runs while playing a Second-Class game for AH Marriott s XI against Ashford. He set sail for Australia on September 12, much earlier than he had planned. His parting salvo on English soil was an innings of 259* for Whitcomb Wanderers against W Jones XI on the day before his departure, the innings being studded with 13 sixes and 36 fours.

Back in Brisbane, Marshal joined forces with Queensland again, playing 5 First-Class matches in 1910-11, 2 of them being against the visiting South Africans. He playing the first of these for Queensland, and scored 50 and 34. In the second, for an Australian XI, he scored a duck and 106.

Alan Marshal played his last First-Class match against the visiting New Zealanders in 1913-14. Despite the marvellous bowling feats (7 for 53 and 2 for 17) of visiting captain Daniel Reese and despite the fact that the New Zealanders won by 12 runs, Marshal, now 30, acquitted himself well with a score of 42 at the top of the order (in a total of 124) and ended his career carrying his bat for 66* in the second-innings total of 114.

At the outbreak of World War I, Marshal enlisted at Brisbane on October 19, 1914, having just crossed 31, and was assigned to the 15th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force. Interestingly, it is seen that his name had been misspelt as Marshall in his recruitment form, and had then been corrected, presumably after he had himself signed his name as Marshal. His occupation was given as Cricketer . He was recorded as being Private No. 163 with the 15th Battalion.

There was, perhaps, a streak of the whimsical about Marshal, as there are a few entries in his service record that speak of his being absent without leave. He saw military action at Gallipoli, and it was while he was in the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign that he was diagnosed with having enteric fever, the first entry in his record being dated July 11, 1915. He was shifted to Imtarfa Military Hospital, Malta on July 18. Unfortunately, the disease progressed rapidly and Marshal succumbed to it on July 23. A cable was sent to his next of kin, his mother (the incident referred to at the beginning of this narrative) on the same date. Marshal was laid to rest at the Pieta Military Hospital Cemetery, Malta.

In Final Wicket: Test and First-Class Cricketers Killed in the Great War, Nigel McCrery begins the chapter on Alan Marshal with the superscript: The finest Australian bat ever to play in England. It may be argued that McCrery s comment may have been a matter of a personal opinion. However, it may be said that any Australian batsman of The Golden Age of Cricket and whose technique and style of play has been compared to that of Trumper, must have had something special about him. Not exactly the equal of the nonpareil Trumper, of course (that would be unthinkable), but the very fact that the batsman has been thought to bear some resemblance of the great man, placeshim among the more accomplished Australians of his times.