Rated as one of the greatest fast bowlers of all-time, Malcolm Marshall made a name for himself in the star-studded lineup full of greats like Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft. Marshall arrived into the scene as a raw talent and became a world-beater purely because of his skill and craft which separated him from the rest of his contemporaries. Not a typical West Indies in the way he was built, Marshall was 5’11”, not very muscular, ran with a sideways run-up and was skiddy.

Despite all his shortcomings, Marshall’s sheer pace, consistent excellence lasted longer than anyone else in the world. A bowling average of less than 21 and a strike rate of 46.7 in 81 Test matches, Marshall scalped an astonishing 376 wickets. Till date, Marshall’s magnificent stats are unsurpassed by any bowler who has taken a minimum of 200 Test wickets. in Tests is one of the best around, especially for bowlers who have taken more than 200 wickets. He picked up wickets with a combination of pace, swing, seam and a very deceptive bouncer that event the best of the batters failed to read.

On April 18, 1958 – Marshall was born on a small Barbados island which was already famous for their rich cricketing heritage and producing the superstars of the gentlemen’s game in form of – Garry Sobers, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, Wes Hall, Desmond Haynes. He carried on the legacy of the legendary fast bowlers from his country and went on to become the best of the very best.

Every cricketing debate or argument started with – Who has been the fastest? Who was the best? Who was the greatest fast bowler of them all? The answers often include some familiar names like – Ray Lindwall, Joel Garner, Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Curtly Ambrose, Waqar Younis or Glenn McGrath – but Marshall’s supreme excellence and his unmatched skill-set often gave him the nod above the rest.

The conditions, wickets or the assistance from the pitches were of barely any use to Marshall, who was blessed with arguably the most sharpest cricketing brains. From making his debut against India in Bengaluru, Marshall went on to extend his repertoire when he single-handedly dominated the County circuit in England. It hardly mattered to Marshall where he played or against whom he is bowling, Macko found more than one way to succeed.

Marshall’s career numbers

Opponent Mat Wkts Ave
Australia 19 87 22.51
England 26 127 19.18
India 17 76 21.98
New Zealand 7 36 21.52
Pakistan 12 50 20.70

Former West Indies pacer Michael Holding credited Marshall’s success to the hard yards he used to put in during his preparations before the match. His dedication towards the game and quest to establish himself as the best was unthinkable. Holding recalled one incident when he saw a young Marshall jogging around with sandbags tied to his ankles, and not even bothering to take them off when he stopped briefly for a game of dominoes.

Marshall’s preparations before a Test match was also one-of-a-kind. From quietly sitting alone to quietly observing the opposition batsmen’s weaknesses was the usual norm. Before the series, Marshall used to study athe batsmen and chalk out a plan well ahead in his head even before stepping out on the field to land the knockout punch.

Various experts and the legends who followed or observed Marshall closely feels he was a bowler who could do everything. He was scary quick thanks to his whippy action, possess the two-pace bouncer (Mike Gatting’s nose got a re-work in 1986 series), used to bowl outswing and inswing at will, the lethal yorker, the leg-cutter for slower wickets and above all the brain to think batsmen out.

Marshall’s average height also worked in his advantage as he often used to hit the target which other West Indian seamers used to miss because of their larger frames. His bouncers used to skid onto the batsmen. Most of the batters would be embarrassed to admit that they felt scared while playing against Marshall. Even when they thought they had his measure, Marshall would come back with some good, old-fashioned swing bowling to get them. During a five-year spell in the 1980s, Marshall grabbed 235 Test wickets at an average of 18.47.

The cricketing world saw Marshall’s golden run especially during 1982-83 to 1985-86 period where he was simply irresistible. He scalped 21 or more wickets in seven successive Test series, with an average in the last five of less than 20. In 1983-84, Marshall took a sweet revenge for the World Cup final defeat by India, taking 33 wickets in a six-Test series which West Indies won 3-0.

But it was England, his second home, which suffered the real heat of Marshall’s furious pace. His most astonishing performance came at Headingley in 1984 when he broke his left thumb while fielding earlier in the match. With plaster on his one hand, and in considerable pain, Marshall bowled 26 overs in the second innings to take 7 for 53 and win the match for West Indies.

These numbers elevate his greatness when recalled that he was a part of an exceptional fast bowling group and only made his debut to the national side when the best Windies players were away to take part in the Packer series or on a trip to South Africa. Until the final phase of his career, Marshall averaged five per Test – another extraordinary piece of stat.

It would be fair to say that the West Indies have produced many great bowlers over the years but Malcolm Marshall, is (or was) arguably, the greatest of them all.