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A tribute to Marshall

MALCOLM Marshall is no more. The fates have claimed long before their time a man who will forever epitomise the heady era of pace which began in the early 1970s with Dennis Lillee and ended around the mid-90s.

He wasn't your traditional tall, lithe pace bowler. He was dimunitive. Deceptive. Wicked. They called Holding "whispering death." Marshall was just called "death." He was the supreme fighter, one who came out once with his left arm in plaster to take seven wickets and send England hurtling to yet another defeat in the first of two blackwashes in the 1980s.

The first glimpse I had of Marshall was at Madras in 1978-79. He was part of the team which was touring India under Alvin Kallicharran and the first impression was that this man was too small to be a real threat as a pace bowler. He bowled alongside Sylvester Clarke and Norbert Philip; the team as as whole didn't make much of an impression in India. I watched him on black and white TV in the confines of our college hall. There was little menace about him and little hint of the way he would evelop.

The next I heard of Marshall was in 1983, during the World Cup in England. The commentators were full of the man, they could not get enough of describing the way in which he generated pace through his whippy action. It surprised me no end. In the interim, he had developed into a man who could terrify batsman. A bowler who was up there with the rest. He was cocky too; when the West Indies lost to India in the World Cup final, Marshall was there with Dujon at 126 for seven and still looking confident.

I saw lots of him in India during the tour which followed. The first day of the first Test at Kanpur the paper I worked for carried the headline: "Marshall law in Kanpur." It was the first of many terrifying days which the Indian team would face in that series. I saw the way he got through Sunil Gavaskar's defences. And Gavaskar at that time was at his peak. In fact, Gavaskar, for the early part of that series had a record something like digital math, something like the scores which Keith Arthurton recorded in the World Cup of 1996. There is no greater tribute to the man's pace and ability to penetrate the defence of one of the world's best openers.

Marshall continued with his terrifying ways. In England in 1984, he was in large part responsible for the 5-0 whitewash. The next time England met the Windies, Mike Gatting got a blow he will never forget. There was no escaping the man. He continued with his demolition of opposing teams until he quit the game in 1992. He wasn't very happy with the way his skipper, Richie Richardson, reacted to being defeated by South Africa in the World Cup; to Marshall it was more than "just another match". So he left. He played in South Africa for a while after that.

Marshall was part and parcel of the four-man pace attack which Clive Lloyd used with great success. He came on the scene much later than the rest but boy did he make up for it. His expression was generally deadpan. But when he came up to the crease, batsmen generally shifted a bit uneasily waiting for the thunderbolt. In his last few years, he cut down on pace a bit but by then he was full of guile. And that more than made up for it.

He was the Windies coach for a while but did not have any great success. He gave up the post during the World Cup this year due to his illness. He held the record for most Test wickets by a West Indies bowler (376) until Courtney Walsh overtook him. But records never tell the full story. He was a legend.

May his soul rest in peace.