rod marsh

Born November 4, 1947, Rodney William Marsh is a former Australian wicketkeeping legend. In the 96 Tests he played he set a world record of 355 dismissals behind the stumps. Never a man for records, statistics were not of significance for Marsh. But he was a combative cricketer and had an appetite for battle, particularly when it came to playing England. On his birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 22 things to know about the Western Australian who later took up a meaty role within the English cricket set-up.

1. Sporting family

Rod Marsh comes from a sporting family. His elder brother Graham was an outstanding professional golfer for Australia and won eleven times on the European Tour. Both brothers represented WA at cricket at schoolboy level.

His son Daniel played First-Class cricket for Tasmania Tigers and even captained them. He played for the South Australia early on in his career and played County Cricket for Leicestershire County Cricket Club.

2. Cricket basics

Marsh learnt his cricketing basics during innumerable backyard cricket sessions with his elder brother. He played his first competitive match at the age of eight for Mosquito Fleet in the Armadale under-16s. He was more inclined towards keeping right from the beginning, but batting was always his strength.

3. The early grind

At 12 Marsh was chosen for the Western Australian schoolboys’ team, a side that he captained the following year. He then joined West Perth District Club, the beginning of tremendous hard work. Marsh used to travel 18 miles on Saturdays to play for a junior side in the morning and in senior grades in the afternoon.

4. Specialist batsman

Marsh made his debut for West Perth’s first XI as a specialist batsman, as regular wicketkeeper Gordon Becker also played in the match. He then joined the University club in order to improve his keeping skills.

5. First-Class debut

Marsh made his First-Class debut for Western Australia against the touring West Indian team in the year 1968 as a No. 5 batsman. He failed in the first innings but made amends with a fine 104 in the second against an attack containing Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Garry Sobers.

6. Called-up for batting

Marsh was picked for his first Test in Brisbane against England in 1970-71 more for his batting than his wicketkeeping. Australia had a horror tour of South Africa the previous series. Marsh’s inclusion was a part of selectors’ decision to pick a keeper who could beef up the batting order.

7. Iron-gloves

That Marsh was a better batsman than keeper remained no secret as he started playing. The media was particularly severe to him and pulled him up for shoddy glovework in the early part of his career. He famously got the title “Iron Gloves” after he missed a number of catches. However, he improved his wicketkeeping skills by leaps and bounds as his career progressed. He took a few stunners during his career.

8. “Caught Marsh bowled Lillee”

We have heard of quite a few famous partnerships between strike bowlers. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose are a couple of examples. But it is quite unusual of a bowler and a wicketkeeper to forge a partnership that has had a great impact on the game. Dennis Lillee and Marsh shared quite a partnership; “caught Marsh bowled Lillee” was recorded 95 times in Tests. In all First-Class cricket and representative one-day matches, the figure crosses 200. Interestingly, both Marsh and Lillee made their débuts as well as retired for Western Australia and Australia around the same time.

Speaking of his understanding with Lillee, Marsh once said “I’ve played with him so much now that most of the time I know what he is going to do before he has bowled.” He further added, “I know from the way he runs up; the angle, the speed, where he hits the crease, where the ball is going to be.”

9. Missed a shot at creating history

Playing in his first series, Marsh equalled the record for the highest Test innings by an Australian keeper, set by Don Tallon, in only his fourth Test. He scored 92 not out at Melbourne against England and missed out on his maiden ton, which would also have been the first by an Australian wicketkeeper.

The end of his innings was controversial as captain Bill Lawry declared with the idea of getting an extra hour of bowling before stumps. When questioned by the press about his lost chance to make an historic century, Marsh famously said that he had gained forty runs instead of missing eight as he thought Lawry should have declared an hour earlier.

10. Mission accomplished — First Australian wicketkeeper to score a Test century

Against Pakistan at Adelaide in 1972–73 Marsh finally entered into the record books as he became the first Australian wicketkeeper to hit a century by scoring 118 in the first Test. He also became the first Australian wicketkeeper to score a Test century against England, when he scored an unbeaten 110 in the second innings of the Centenary Test in 1977. In the same Test he passed Wally Grout’s Australian wicketkeeping record of 187 Test dismissals.

11. Another record

In the 1975-76 series against the West Indies, Marsh took a world-record 26 catches in 6 Tests.

12. Effective lower-order batsman in ODIs

Marsh was an effective all-round player in One-Day International (ODI) matches, where he contributed both as keeper and lower-order batsmen. He gave a good account of his striking abilities once in a match against New Zealand in 1980–81. At Adelaide Oval he struck 26 from the final over from Lance Cairns, carting 3 sixes and 2 fours, before falling on the final ball.

13. Life after retirement

Post-retirement, Marsh took up the role of cricket commentator for Channel Nine’s international matches between 1986 and 1990, and 1996 and 1998. He also served the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide as Coach and Director from 1990 to 2001. Some of his renowned protégés include Australian internationals Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee.

14. Ties with England cricket

Marsh surprised one and all when he decided to head England’s National Academy and take up a role as one of England’s selectors. He was appointed to build an England side capable of winning the 2007 cricket World Cup. Though it didn’t happen, he did help the English team regain the Ashes in 2005.

He stepped down from his England role in 2005. In August 2006 he took up a consultancy role with South Australia Cricket Association to undertake a review of cricket throughout South Australia. Marsh also worked with the Global Cricket Academy in Dubai, with the aim to globalise the game.

15. Coaching the coaches

In 2011 Marsh took up a newly created role to oversee Australian cricket’s coaching framework, thus becoming a “coach of the coaches”. His role was designed to ensure a unified approach to mentoring players across the states. In May 2014 Marsh was appointed Chairman of Selectors for Cricket Australia in place of John Inverarity.

16. Bid adieu with the legends

On January 6, 1984, Australia bade farewell to three of her greatest cricketers in the same match: Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh announced their retirement from the game together after the Test against Pakistan at SCG.

17. MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture 2015

Marsh delivered the 15th edition of the prestigious Cowdrey Lecture at the Lord’s earlier this year. He spoke about the spirit of the game and called for greater accountability by cricket’s administrators. It was a thought-provoking speech and garnered much appreciation from the cricket fraternity.

18. World Series Cricket

When Kerry Packer announced the breakaway World Series Cricket, a rebellious Marsh signed up for it. In the 16 SuperTests that he played in the series, he effected 54 dismissals.

19. Honours

Marsh achieved quite a few laurels during and after his illustrious career. He was made an MBE in 1981 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985. He received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and a Centenary Medal in 2001.

20. Could kill to get into the Australian team

According to Greg Chappell, Marsh was one of the most combative and competitive players. He even once famously said that Marsh and Ian Redpath could kill to get into the Australian team.

21. Betting

During the 1981 tour of England, Australia were in the commanding position in the third Test. They were the bookmakers’ favourite, who were offering odds of 500–1 on an England victory. These odds were flashed on the scoreboard during a break in the game and noticed by Australian players including Lillee and Marsh, who believed the odds were too ludicrous to ignore. Both put a small wager on the outcome, later describing their actions as a “joke”. Between them, they collected 7,500 pounds as England pulled off a comeback victory. Both men openly discussed the incident but surprisingly, escaped any official censure or sanction.

22. “Bacchus”

Marsh was nicknamed Bacchus by his team-mates. Once his team took a train ride through the Victorian countryside and stopped momentarily at a station, where they came across a sign with the phrase “Bacchus Marsh”. That is when he got the nick-name Bacchus.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets.)