Rod Marsh, who has died in hospital in Adelaide aged 74 following a heart attack last week, did not simply represent Australia in cricket but also in the public imagination. He was the archetypal Australian, stocky, gruff, rough, and tough on initial acquaintance, but he played fair and was ready to have a beer with anyone after a day’s play.
“You cheating South African!” was a typical Marsh greeting, growled from behind the stumps, in this case at Allan Lamb when playing for his adopted England. The Nottinghamshire and England batsman Derek Randall walked out to bat in a Test, greeted Marsh the wicketkeeper, then asked him why he did not reply. “What do you think this is, a f—— garden party?” There will be no more Marshes, in the era of microphones placed inside the stumps.
If Marsh had been simply what he looked however – a typical Aussie – he would never have become England’s first Academy head coach. As such, he was extremely thoughtful, and contributed much to England becoming the equal of Australia for several years from 2005, although the gap – or gulf – has grown again since.
Sir Andrew Strauss was in the first intake of English academy players, sent to the Adelaide headquarters of Australia’s academy because nowhere in England was suitable. The discipline was army-style under Marsh as head coach, but not just loads of fitness training and cricket.
“I have kept a diary since going to Adelaide with the inaugural Academy intake of 2001. We were ‘encouraged’ to do so by the head coach Rod Marsh, the former Australian wicketkeeper – and I use inverted commas because it was semi-compulsory.”
It would be no exaggeration to say that diary – and the habit of clarity of thought and vision which it instilled in Strauss – has become the most formative influence on England’s cricket over the last dozen years.
Marsh’s interaction with Graeme Swann, another in that inaugural intake, was at a more basic level. On the day the players arrived in Adelaide, they were called together, introduced to Marsh, and heard that Robbie Williams was going to be in town. Whereupon, as Swann recalled in The Breaks are Off, “Rod, in his broad Western Australian accent, demanded: ‘Who the f— is Robbie Williams?’
“Now, to this day I don’t know why I did it – I never will, and looking back it makes me laugh out loud even though I concede it shouldn’t – but I just looked at him quizzically and in a mock Aussie drawl replied: ‘He’s a f—— singer, you ignorant c—!’ You know when you’ve totally misread a situation?”
The point of this story is that Marsh did not bear a grudge, as lesser coaches would have, after losing face in front of their charges. After a few seasons, by when the England and Wales Cricket Board had built an academy in Loughborough, and by when Swann had matured somewhat, Marsh called him in, and told him he was the best spinner in county cricket. Swann apologised for the Williams comment, the pair made up, and Marsh “shook my hand, laughed and told me: ‘Go and take some wickets!’”