Farewell to Greats

I was thinking this morning I would write a piece about the love of cricket inspired by the feats of great players, not specifically about Rodney Marsh as the news of his death came through, but in one of those reflective moments when those you are familiar with as a child leave us. I was in two minds about doing it, there’s nothing worse than seeing such news breaking and immediately thinking of how to make it about me, or us. And then the shocking news of Shane Warne came through as well. I can’t write a tribute to them, I’m neither capable nor do I deserve to.

I didn’t know either of them, never met them, never anything more than seeing them across the field or on the television. I’ve no story about queueing for an autograph or a quick chat in a bar somewhere, they were and ever will be strangers to me. So plenty will tell their tales of when they did, while the chroniclers of cricket history will place them in their appropriate position as giants of the game, statistically and in terms of their impact. And we will read their wise words and nod in appreciation, as we should.

Their different generations make the reflections and memories so different, Rod Marsh for me was the permanent presence behind the stumps for Australia when I was a child, listening to the commentators (also largely sadly gone now) talking about how he was a truly special exponent of the art of wicket-keeping, which to my young ears was simply irritating, because he was an Aussie, and the reason they were talking about that was because he’d just flown in front of first slip to take a great catch, and thus yet another English wicket had fallen.

Warne was of course much later, and part of that dominant Australian team that ripped England to pieces for a decade and more. As a near contemporary, today’s news perhaps appals more, but in his case it was his sheer vitality, and larger than life presence that makes it such a shocking thing to hear about.

In both cases, they formed the backdrop of the rhythms of a game that is an ever present part of the lives of so many of us, the flow of opposition cricketers who evoked a feeling of grudging admiration and considerable irritation as they weaved their magic on hapless English victims – and it was always English in those days where matches between other teams were never shown on television. So to that extent it was always every couple of years you’d renew televisual or ground acquaintances who would proceed to ruin your summer most of the time.

Perhaps that’s why as an English person the fondest memories either came later or in other circumstances. Marsh might have had a fantastically brilliant career, but for me it was his shaking of his head, crossing of his arms and clear unhappiness at the Trevor Chappell underarm incident that raised him from opposing-far-too-good-player-how-irritating to three dimensional character. I doubt I saw that incident at the time either, but was familar enough with it at the time I was watching him. And of course towards the end of any great player’s career you start to appreciate them more than was previously the case.

Warne too, his brashness when he announced his arrival with that ball, was bound to wind up pretty much every English supporter, especially so when he backed that brashness up, again and again. There was that dawning horror in all England supporters as he became rather obviously far more than just a show-off, but in fact on his way to being one of the all time greats. And doing it for years. Saving his best for England, which invariably makes an Australian the pantomime villain, the one we adore but daren’t admit it. Thus it was that his last series in England, the 2005 Ashes ended with him becoming something of an honorary national treasure, the chants of “We only wish you were English” alongside the clear and abundant pleasure he was taking in being part of such a special series, even on the losing side. And perhaps it was partly because he was on the losing side he received that transparently warm and affectionate farewell from the English crowds. Either way, he deserved it.

And ultimately, isn’t that the point? Cricketers rise and fall, are new and exciting or veteran and grizzled, but what they leave behind even more than the runs, wickets and catches they score and take are the memories – the honour of watching them, the laughter or the frown when they end up on the front pages as well as the back. Feet of clay the lot of them, imperfect as all human beings are. Marsh was fantastically sardonic as a radio commentator, Warne endlessly frustrated because he could so often be banal, before suddenly being so extraordinarily insightful to the point you were hanging on every word.

But didn’t they seem fun? Characters you’d want to share a pint with and just listen to all evening long, at least while still upright. I can’t pay any kind of meaningful tribute to them, and the loss for their families is too much to take as it always is. But they have been part of the soundtrack of our lives, and maybe that’s as high a praise as can ever be offered. Cricket is poorer for their loss, but we’re all poorer for their loss.

The words are hopelessly inadequate. They’re the best I can do. I’m upset at the news of two people I didn’t know. And so are very many others.


8 thoughts on “Farewell to Greats

  1. man in a barrel Mar 4, 2022 / 7:12 pm

    Fantastic tribute. You said, in a much more balanced way than I could, how much you admired and yet hated them. I even think there was a time when Marsh could have run out Boycott in the 72 Ashes but didn’t because he had been impeded or tripped or something. Will check later.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. man in a barrel Mar 4, 2022 / 7:20 pm

    Unreliable memories! Old Trafford Test of 1972. Marsh hit the ball into the covers;Boycott fielded ; Marsh collided with the bowler (Greig?) but Boycott did not complete the run-out. Marsh thanked Boycott.

    Cricket was a great game once

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jon Pike Mar 4, 2022 / 7:35 pm

    I am sure that you have spoken for many cricket lovers, especially for those who follow England, in a very empathetic and sympathetic way. You have highlighted Marsh’s grasp of the spirit of the game and Warne’s flawed genius that were obvious to all of us, like you, who never met them but would have liked to have done so. An article and words to be proud of, in my view.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mark Mar 4, 2022 / 9:24 pm

    What a shock, and both going on the same day!

    I guess Warnes passing is the more shocking seeing as he was so much younger. I too remember watching Rodney Marsh as a kid growing up. He was part of that gnarled, moustachioed, rebellious Aussie side who looked more like they wanted to start a rock band than play cricket. A sort of Keith Richards swagger and never take a backwards step side of Chappell, Lillie and Thompson.

    Warne of course was something else. A true all time great of the game. He was a revelation to me, because there was so little leg spin bowling about. Fast bowling was dominant. The WI would become the worlds best team for two decades using a battery of never ending fast bowlers. You would hear old time players from the 30s and 50s talking about leg spin, and uncovered pitches, but apart from when perhaps Pakistan visited you didn’t see much of it.

    One reason was that if it legspin was only slightly off it could become very expensive. A loose, over pitched half volley or a short pitch ball was “help your self.” Its only when you see an average leggie that you realise how small the margin of error is. Everyone will talk about Warnes wickets and rightly so, but his accuracy over such a numerous amount of overs bowled was amazing. People will talk of the miracle balls, but I often liked to watch him bowl in the first innings, when the pitch was flat, and not doing much, and see how he would still impose himself on the batsman.

    One final point about both men as you pointed out….they did, like everyone else,have feet of clay. Both had their off field moments. In more gentler times people thought it was just funny when Marsh took the 500/1 on offer in the famous Headingly test match. As he said… 500/1 in a two horse race was just too tempting. No one would think it funny today. Does anyone think that game was fixed? I hope it wasn’t, and I think he gave everything in trying to win.

    It is perhaps worth baring in mind that humans are not, and never will be perfect. Regimes that have tried to create that down the centuries have ended up drenched in blood. In an age of endless searching for virtuous perfection in thought and deed it is perhaps worth reflecting on the reality that sometimes the people can be great and also very flawed. It’s what we are, human beings. You will never achieve perfection unless we all become robots, and what a boring antiseptic world that will be.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Zephirine Mar 5, 2022 / 12:53 am

    Always worth revisiting this:

    Not many people get songs written about them, especially not songs that match them so well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. StaffordshireKnot Mar 5, 2022 / 1:19 pm

    I’m really quite upset at the loss of Shane Warne – we should’ve been able to listen to his perspicacious commentary for another 10-20yrs – it is a dreadful thing that has happened; and now people will speculate as to the cause of his demise. It’s wrong.

    Warne was one of cricket’s greatest bowlers – up there with Barnes, and like Barnes, he was good enough to take wickets with his personality. Warne was a tremendous all-round cricketer too, not quite Sobers or Botham or Kallis, but certainly his country’s best all-rounder since Benaud and Miller. His punditry also informs us that he had an incredibly shrewd cricket brain, and that he must’ve been a great skipper.

    As a character, the sporting world has lost a great man – flawed yes, dreadfully so, I do not believe so. The way he embraced Kevin Pietersen and his insecurity that manifested itself in arrogance, puts Strauss (and others) to shame.

    Don’t know why, but as an Englishman, I am quite upset by losing him.

    Rod Marsh was also a fixture in my cricketing youth, and I am very sorry that he has gone too – but principally because it means I’m getting older, and the days of innocence have gone. What wouldn’t I give to be transported back to 1981?

    From my perspective, Marsh was a really good keeper and a very useful batsman – in the same way that Deryck Murray and Jeff Dijon were. Not as great as Knott, and nowhere near Gilchrist as a keeper-batsman, but he was almost without peer as a competitor. Together with Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Doug Walters and Max Walker, Rod Marsh embodied the tough as teak competitive edge to the game…….but nurtured the spirit of the game with great gusto at the end of the day’s play. (And one suspects Shane Warne did as well).

    For that – and for one of sports best moustaches – Rod Marsh is one of my sporting heroes. The Aussie bastard.

    RIP both of them – the world is lesser for their departure.


  7. Sean Mar 5, 2022 / 11:19 pm

    Great piece Chris. Warne as a commentator was marmite, Warne as a spinner and player might never be beaten in terms of skill and talent.

    Liked by 1 person

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