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Roy Marshall – A Forgotten Hampshire Hero

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An easy cricketing trivia question is to ask the name of the Hampshire opening batsman who played in just four Tests, but who despite that was recognised by most as the finest opening batsman of his time. The invariable answer of course is Barry Richards. A blank look usually follows the questioner suggesting that the criteria are met by someone else as well. The only flaw in the argument in favour of Roy Marshall is that, unlike his illustrious successor, his four Tests did not of themselves suggest that a great young player was about to make his mark on the game. For Richards his four brought him 508 runs at 72.57. Marshall on the other hand averaged just over 20 in his seven innings at the highest level, and had a highest score of just 30.

Back in January of 1946 Marshall was still 89 days short of his sixteenth birthday when he made his First Class debut. He answered an SOS when Frank Worrell dropped out of the Barbados side that was due to play Trinidad and Tobago. The game was played on the unfamiliar mat at Port of Spain. If Marshall had the relative good fortune, in terms of a calming influence, to go into bat to join his elder brother Norman, he was still so overwhelmed that Norman told him later he had never seen anyone look so nervous in his life. Marshall was dropped at slip before he had scored, then managed a couple of singles off the edge of his bat before slip made amends for his earlier mistake and took a catch from the bowling of West Indies leg spinner Wilf Ferguson.

There was to be no second innings for Marshall in the drawn game, and he had to wait three years for his next appearance and that came only because the West Indies Test stars were away, making their first visit to India.  He seized this opportunity however, scoring a fluent 149 against Trinidad. In the second fixture against the same opposition he added 110 and 57 and, with a few wickets as well was on his way in the game. It was to be a skill that fell into disuse, but in his early years Marshall was a decidedly useful off spinner, capable of getting considerable turn.

The First Class programme in West Indies in 1949/50 consisted of four trial matches that were arranged to assist the selectors to choose the side to visit England in 1950. Two were between Barbados and British Guiana. In the second Marshall scored a relatively modest 48 and 11, but it mattered little as in the first he had booked his trip with a magnificent 191.

Contrary to almost every commentator’s expectations the West Indians carried all before them in 1950, winning the Test series 3-1 and admirers the length and breadth of England. Such was the quality of their frontline batting, and Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine with the ball, that Marshall was not needed for the Tests, but he did well in the other tour matches, and took a sparkling century from the Hampshire attack.

In 1951 Marshall came back to England to play as a professional for Lowerhouse in the Lancashire League. He was rather more successful when he returned the following year, but was not amongst the League’s leading professionals, the often slow and damp wickets not proving suited to his swashbuckling style. Added to that it would probably be fair to say that the opposition bowling was rather cannier than he expected.

In the Southern Hemisphere summer of 1951/52 the West Indies toured Australia and New Zealand for a series that was billed as the game’s world championship. Sadly the West Indians could not replicate the success they had enjoyed in England and they lost the series against Australia 4-1. Marshall made his debut in the first Test, batting at number seven. In the first innings he got to 28 before being bowled trying to smash the off spin of Ian Johnson out of the ground. In the second innings he was out-thought by Keith Miller.

In that first innings Miller had surprised Marshall with a very quick bouncer that he was far too late on. Up popped what would have been a simple catch, had Miller had a forward short leg. In his next over a no doubt frustrated Miller bowled bouncer after bouncer at Marshall, so much so that he was warned by the umpire. The unsettling experience of an angry Miller no doubt contributed to the rush of blood to the head that brought Johnson Marshall’s wicket. By the time Miller came into the attack in the second innings Marshall had batted well to get to 30. Determined to impose himself on Miller after losing the psychological battle first time round he immediately unfurled an expansive drive. Unfortunately for Marshall however he had fallen into Miller’s trap. What he received was a slow off cutter that he hit far too early, and he succeeded only in spooning a simple catch to mid off.

Despite getting two starts Marshall was not assisted by the rather ugly nature of his two dismissals and it was he who was dropped for the second Test to make way for an extra bowler.  He was back for the third though, and this time given his preferred slot at the top of the order. Australia were bowled out for 82, so the 14 Marshall made as West Indies eked out a precious first innings lead of 23 was more significant than it seemed. The home side did better second time round and no one gave the visitors much chance of making the 233 they needed to win. Despite that Jeff Stollmeyer and Marshall set them off with a partnership of 72 to which Marshall contributed 29, and the confidence that gave their teammates saw West Indies get home by four wickets for the solitary high point of their tour.

Perhaps the hamstring injury that Marshall had picked up whilst fielding helped his resolve to bat more responsibly, but unfortunately it was to prove to be the cause of his missing the final two Tests. He was back in the side in New Zealand where West Indies won the two Tests, the last of Marshall’s career. In the first he opened and scored 16 and 26. In the second Test he batted at first drop and, after sitting through a partnership of 197 between Alan Rae and Stollmeyer, he was out for a duck. It was an ignominious dismissal, particularly for a final Test appearance. Marshall was still only 21.

There had been problems between Marshall and two of his Trinidadian teammates. The relationship with Gerry Gomez was particularly poor, but he didn’t get on very well with Stollmeyer either.  The pair were important figures in Caribbean cricket although despite his concerns about them Marshall’s original intention had been to try and forge a career as a Test cricketer for West Indies and when, in the summer of 1952, he received an offer from Hampshire he did not immediately respond.

After his summer in Lowerhouse Marshall went home hoping to figure in the 1952/53 home series against India. He wasn’t in the side for the first Test, the selectors preferring the old firm of Rae and Stollmeyer at the top of the order. Rae missed the second Test however and, despite scoring only 25 in the colony match against the tourists, Marshall was called into the twelve for the match.

It is a moot point as to how cricket history might have been different for Marshall had he scored more than that 25. However, he was dismissed when he was due to Clyde Walcott, sending him back for a run he would always remain convinced was there. As it was the selectors decided against the specialist opener, called Bob Christiani into the lower middle order and promoted Bruce Pairaudeau to open. With Stollmeyer now captain and Gomez still playing and an important influence on his fellow countryman Marshall immediately decided that the near future held no real prospect of a return to the Test arena, and he dusted off Hampshire’s offer and accepted it.

Registration rules meant that Marshall would not be eligible to play in the County Championship for two years, so in 1953 he could only play four times. In truth he achieved very little in those matches, although he whetted the appetite of Hampshire supporters with a whirlwind 71 against the touring Australians on a spiteful wicket. He got lucky of course, but the innings still demonstrated his exceptional ability. Marshall’s four matches the following summer, which included a pair against the touring Pakistanis, were no more impressive, but his first full summer, that of 1955, was extremely successful. In his trademark style Marshall hit the ground running to score more than 2,000 runs. Hampshire rose from a dismal fourteenth in the table to third, to that date their best ever finish.

In 1956 Marshall had a much leaner time, in his own view simply because his opponents worked out how to bowl to him. No longer were the third man and fine leg boundaries left unpatrolled, and most captains now placed a man at mid off from the start. All of a sudden many early innings boundaries were reduced to singles, and Marshall wasn’t too keen on running about.  There is a story of an argument with England opener Peter Richardson on a Rothman’s Cavaliers tour to Jamaica which one certainly hopes is true. Richardson was a nudger and nurdler and, because of Marshall’s reluctance to run sharp singles, found himself becalmed. When he finally snapped and complained to Marshall the reply he got was; I’m not rushing up and down with you in this heat, you want to learn to hit the ball.

Unusually for a batsman, and in particular an opening batsman, Marshall did not mind admitting in an end of career autobiography that he did not relish facing fast bowling, and indeed that there were occasions when he went out to bat feeling frightened of what was to come. Unsurprisingly, before the book was published, it was a fear he had never mentioned to anyone, not even his long time opening partner at Hampshire, Jimmy Gray. The reason he wanted to be an opener was because he suffered from nerves, which only got worse when he sat around. Hampshire fell into the trap, after his successful debut season, of reasoning that an aggressive batsman such as Marshall would be better off in the middle order. The experiment lasted three matches.

The fastest bowler around in Marshall’s time was Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson. In August 1956 Hampshire travelled to Rushden to play Tyson’s Northamptonshire. The wicket at Rushden was a slow one and Marshall scored a trademark 133 with Tyson going wicketless. Whoever compiled the fixture list that summer probably had a sense of humour as the return fixture came up a week later at Portsmouth, then the quickest wicket in the country. Marshall reasoned, not unreasonably, that the more power with which he hit Tyson the more difficult it would be for anyone to catch him. The angrier at this disrespectful treatment that Tyson became the harder Marshall hit him, generally over the slips. Eventually in frustration Tyson shouted at his captain, Dennis Brookes, alright, let’s have all the fielders out and we’ll play baseball. According to Marshall Brookes soon rested Tyson and he was so relieved he relaxed too much and was out straight away. According to Wisden however Tyson did get his man, but not before he had scored 48, which proved to be the best score of the innings.

Despite his fears during a career that lasted over 25 years Marshall was only struck on the head twice, ironically enough in consecutive matches in 1957. The first occasion was in Doug Wright’s benefit match at Canterbury. The bowler concerned was Fred Ridgway, not in Tyson’s league but good enough to have earned five Test caps, albeit with the understrength England team that went to India in 1951/52. Ridgway never worried Marshall, so much so that he would happily hook him off the front foot, and it was doing that that caused him to edge the ball into his face. A trip to hospital and six stitches in a wound below the left eye followed. A frightened player, one would have thought, would stayed in the pavilion on his return to lick his wounds. That certainly wasn’t the Marshall way however. He came back to shore up an innings that was sinking fast at 95-7. He couldn’t turn the match round, but did top score with 52.

Hampshire’s next match was against Surrey on that fast track at Portsmouth. There was some discussion about Marshall, still with stitches from his brush with Ridgway, missing the game. His own view was that his confidence was more likely to be damaged if he ducked the game, so he played and took his usual place at the top of the order.

It must have been tempting for Marshall to sit the match out and understandable that the county were worried. Surrey were on their way to their sixth title on the bounce, and their spearhead was Peter Loader.  Unlike Ridgway Loader was genuinely quick, and a good enough bowler to be capped 13 times. It might well have been more had it not been for constant mutterings about the legality of his action, most being convinced he threw his quicker delivery. Surrey batted first and declared on 386-6. They didn’t need to bat again and won by an innings and 35 runs. In Hampshire’s first innings Marshall top scored with 56. In the second he did so again, this time eventually scoring 111.

Whilst Marshall was in the seventies Loader let him have what he later described as a real sizzler that struck him just an inch away from his stitches. Such was his anger that he said he couldn’t feel the pain at the time, nor on his way to completing the innings. He certainly felt it afterwards though, not even feeling sufficiently comfortable to pick up his three year old daughter. All things considered it is hardly surprising that his self-confessed fear of fast bowling came as a surprise when it was announced.

Back in the Caribbean as the 1950s wore on the West Indies strength waned and their selectors were obviously worried ahead of the 1957 visit to England, the first since the heady days of 1950. Both Marshall and Hampshire were sounded out about Marshall’s availability. In those days the rules were that whilst Marshall could certainly play for West Indies again if he did so he would then need to serve a further two year qualifying period before he could resume his county career. The decision was not a difficult one. Marshall had married an English girl and was settled in Hampshire. He had made a commitment to the county who had treated him well and did not try to influence him in the decision either way. Loyalty and stability won the day and Marshall declined the offer to pick up the threads of an international career. There can be no doubt that he would have strengthened a team whose trip was as disappointing as its predecessors’ had been exhilarating.

In 1958 Marshall was back to his best, and he scored more than 2,000 runs again, the first of five consecutive seasons in which he was to do so. This time Hampshire were second in the Championship and then in 1961, Marshall’s benefit season and the year he recorded his highest aggregate of 2,607, they won the title under the enterprising captaincy of Colin Ingleby-McKenzie. This was in spite of the reluctance of some opposing skippers, wary of Marshall’s ability to score quickly and heavily, to set targets for Ingleby-McKenzie’s men.

After the Championship success, and a benefit that had raised a tidy sum, Marshall was invited out for a drink by the West Indian skipper Frank Worrell. The West Indies were back on an upward course. They had great batsmen in Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Conrad Hunte, and fine bowlers like Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs. The one thing Worrell’s side really needed was another opener to partner Hunte.  Marshall was 32 and at the peak of his powers. He had had his benefit and if he was interested Worrell made it clear he would like him in his side for 1963. The considerations for Marshall were therefore slightly different this time, and he did give the offer some serious thought before once again declining.

The West Indies did not come calling again, but Worrell’s offer proved not to be the last time that the possibility of a Test recall was mentioned to Marshall. Early in the 1962 season he was approached by Walter Robins, one of England’s selectors, asking whether he would be interested in playing for England with a view to touring Australia in 1962/63. According to ICC rules he was eligible as it was more than five years since he had played for West Indies. This time however Marshall didn’t need to give the possibility any real thought as, shortly after the suggestion was made, Robins had to backtrack, having clearly only made enquiries after the event and been told that notwithstanding ICC rules the MCC had some years previously resolved not at any time to select players who had appeared in Tests for another country.

Between 1966 and 1970 Marshall captained Hampshire. In contrast to his batting his leadership tended to be cautious and his run scoring declined as well. That may have been simply as a result of growing older, and a few arthritic symptoms didn’t help. At the end of the day however during Marshall’s last summer as skipper, and the two that followed back in the ranks, his form returned and there were plenty of reminders of the Marshall of old.

After he left the game Marshall worked, for a time, for a travel company based in Southampton. He left that job in 1975 when he moved to the West Country and back into the game as he became a coach at King’s School in Taunton. He combined that from 1978 with being a publican. He still found the time to adjudicate Man of the Match awards in one day competitions and to be Chairman of Cricket at Somerset. His health was generally good, and he played golf off a handicap of 11, but in time skin cancer took hold. Roy Marshall, the first West Indian batsman to score 30,000 runs, and still after Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards the third highest scorer from the Caribbean, died in Taunton in 1992. He was 62.

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