Can we truly value life unless and until we embrace a near-death experience?
Driving on a highway over 200 mph can be thrilling. But can it ever better the relief that’s experienced upon narrowly avoiding hitting the roadside divider?
Imagine finding the seatbelt latch broken just before encountering the eventual ‘drop’ whilst riding the world’s scariest roller-coaster, only to find you’ve made a smooth landing?
Life’s only glorious when one is alive, having beaten death.
Cricket exemplifies this excruciating truth as few other things can.
For every time a Malcolm Marshall steamed into the batsmen, cricket became less of a sport and more of a saga of survival.
It had less to do with 11 men pitted against each other and more about trailblazing pace whiskering past the willow, telling the figure in front of the stumps that it was just as frail as the timber it guarded.
And, that its stay could well be temporary, like happiness, like the very realization that all good things- such as a fine century or a dogged fifty- come to an end.
Facing Malcolm Marshall- not only 376 Test wickets but 157 ODI dismissals- was like being caged alone, facing the wrath of a pugilist. The ball in his hand would seem like a sorcerer readying to throw molten lava.
At his peak, he was the near opposite of the sublime beauty provided by batsmen.
You could be anyone- Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Chappell, Botham, Gower, Imran Khan- you couldn’t score against him.
You had to fight hard for the runs.
The aspect one hardly finds in the contemporary spank-bang age of T20Is.
In the very game of elegance and poise, he challenged strokemakers with vengeance, as if to state Cricket wasn’t just a sublime love story but a revenge saga where the ball was the hero.
And when he succeeded, which was quite often- collecting a Test wicket from every 7.4 overs, gathering 376 scalps in all from 2,930 overs (17580 deliveries)- he turned Cricket into a spectacle.
Long before such a thing as a speed gun came to exist, which later anointed a Brett Lee, Shaun Tait or Shoaib as the heroes, Malcolm Marshall was ‘the’ speed gun himself.
Ask Andy Lloyd who faced the aching heat of embracing a quicker one from Marshall on his Test debut, in 1984.
Ask Mike Gatting who was forced into a nose-job long before Kim Kardashian and her likes made it mainstream.
For nearly 13 years, Malcolm Marshall pounced onto batsmen like an unfriendly, hostile figure having a demoralizing quality about it.
Think of the unwillingness of time to lapse when one’s incarcerated.
Think of the pain when a raging bull is left uncaged having to meet a defenseless adversary in you.
As a batsman, you didn’t know what was worse about facing Malcolm Marshall.
Was it just brute speed that became his signature mode of operation?
Or was it the fact that he could seize you up; spot your weakness and encash it using a combination of cunning and daring?
In a game famous for its lingo, perhaps modern fans may never understand the value of a term, that given the current West Indies line-up, is as rare an occurrence as it’s very sound.
Back in 1984, the West Indies had, as the media dubbed it, ‘blackwashed,’ England, in England, winning all 5 Tests, 2 of which resulted in an innings victory.
While Joel Garner roared at Birmingham, Malcolm Marshall lorded at the Lord’s, with a 9-for in the Second Test.
While he would sit out in the Fourth Test and capture 10 from The Oval’s final contest, he would choose Headingley for exhibiting a volcanic appetite of destruction.
To this day, the 7 for 53 is considered one of the grittiest exhibitions of hardcore pace bowling by the Barbadian, which fetched West Indies an unassailable 3-0 lead (with 2 games to go).
But that he bowled- when could’ve simply stayed out in the green room- for 26 straight overs with one fractured hand in the cast indicated his intent to cause dismay to batsmen.
Marshall putting all his energy in bringing about England’s submission was akin to doomsday planning to strike the earthlings twice as hard.
The greats- Allan Lamb, Botham, Cook, and Sir Gower- were all subjected to a relentless onslaught of short-pitched, naggingly accurate bowling that made the idea of sucking up to a sofa the very idea of life instead of sticking out on the crease.
He would pick 24 of his 127 Test wickets against England on that single tour.
Two years later, England decided to tour the Caribbean.
The 1986 series would see Malcolm Marshall spew venom as if his ’84 heroics had missed an element of fear.
In 7 of 10 occasions, England batsmen were denied scoring even 200.
The main oppressor?
The man who punched akin to gym-freak pounding a first-timer, clinching 27 wickets whilst choking the English to a very calamitous death.
But in order to truly appreciate Malcolm Marshall, one has to go beyond the vignette of cartwheeling stumps, huffing and puffing batsmen, and broken bones.
What made Malcolm Marshall cut a distinct figure was the very frame responsible for producing furious spells of fast bowling.
If Joel Garner and Wes Hall, two of the meanest and merciless exponents of pace bowling had the intimidating physical presence about them, Malcolm Marshall, at 1.80 meters, did all the magic minus any of that daunting reach.
When he came into bowl, sprinting with the rhythmic angular action, you felt as if every tiny molecule in the body was bursting with energy to create the effort that would eventually unsettle the batsmen.
He would use every fraction of pace to hurry into batsmen and every ounce of energy to pitch the ball where he exactly wanted, just like he did on the green top at Kanpur in 1983 to fell Sunil Gavaskar.
Just like he did to capture 10 wickets at the 1984 Adelaide Test, against the very opponents whom he terrorized with 7 five-wicket hauls.
It wasn’t often that a Kim Hughes or Allan Border found their authority tested and their blades blunted for runs.
In a team that was about the whispering death of Michael Holding and the jaw-dropping lethality of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall often struck the equalizer, making an even contest out of cricket, that so often belonged to ethereal beauties of the bat.
But that being said, Malcolm Marshall, was more than just the capricious fast bowling.
He epitomized that the rushes could be felt by not allowing one to have an easy day, but not missing the painful tedium of giving it everything.
Above all, he symbolized the very thing you’d want the finely talented current lot to borrow a leaf from; the pride of representing the island nation called Barbados and the collective ideal that’s the West Indies.
A fine piece on the greatest bowler that ever graced the game. Malcom Marshall the name could bring shiver to the batsmen. Kudos Dev
The detailing is well done, just like the nose job! Great research Dev. Curious to know how you go about it.