At 5’11”, Malcolm Marshall was not built like your regular West Indies fast bowler. He was short, not very muscular, ran in with an angular run-up. But that is where the dissimilarities ended. For despite all those ‘shortcomings’, the world has never seen a bowler like Macko, as Marshall was known, again.
The West Indies fast bowler passed away in 1999, aged 41, but by then, he had left an indelible mark on the game of cricket. In 81 Tests, he claimed 376 wickets at an average of 20.94. And just to be sure, he spared no one. It didn’t matter where he played or against whom, Marshall always found a way to succeed.
Marshall's career numbers
The success was directly linked to his dedication. Michael Holding remembered him 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.
Then, there was the preparation. He would sit and watch videos of the opposition well before this became the norm. He would study batsmen, he would work them out well before the series. If he had never seen a batsman before, he would have videos sent to him. It wasn’t just turn up and deliver. Rather, it was turn up prepared and then, deliver.
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The other part of his success was his complete mastery of fast bowling. Here was a bowler who could do everything – he could be scary quick thanks to his whippy action, he had the two-pace bouncer, the outswinger, the inswinger, the yorker, the leg-cutter for slower wickets and the brain to think batsmen out. The perfect fast bowler who seemed to be in a hurry to hurt the batsmen.
Because he was short, his bouncers used to skid onto the batsmen. And unlike the other big West Indies fast bowlers whose bouncers would very often sail over the heads of the batsmen, Marshall would hit the target.
On most days, the batsmen were simply too scared. And when they thought they had his measure, he could respond with some good, old-fashioned swing bowling to get them. During a five-year spell in the 1980s, Marshall took 235 Test wickets at an average of 18.47.
It’s impossible to understate these numbers. He was part of a very good fast bowling unit and only got his West Indies debut because all the best players were away at the Packer series or took a trip to South Africa. But even when the seniors came back, he was the only bowler from the third string to retain his place.
He didn’t look back after that. Until the final phase of his career, Marshall averaged five per Test. This is phenomenal especially when one considers the quality of the other bowlers in the line-up.
The story goes that when Marshall became the West Indies coach, he was still good enough to bowl to his players in the nets. But he probed and exposed the defences of the new generation so much that he was stopped from bowling against them. The management didn’t want them going into matches demoralised.
Indeed, it would be fair to say that the West Indies have produced many great bowlers over the year but Marshall, is arguably, the greatest of them all.
In the documentary below, fellow cricketers and his family members take you on a journey that tells you just how great Marshall truly was: