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November 5, 1999


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Vengsarkar Vengeance

Cricket legend Malcolm Marshall, who died of colon cancer yesterday, recalls his fiery battles with Dilip Vengsarkar. An excerpt from his memoirs.

malc1a.jpg - 14747 Bytes Dilip Vengsarkar is one of the finest batsmen in contemporary cricket and proof of his quality came in 1986 when he became the first overseas player to score three Test centuries at Lord's: not even Bradman could match that. Yet, while I readily acknowledge his fine achievement, I could not bring myself to get very enthusiastic about it. He is the one cricketer I have ever disliked and the only one I have felt consistently hostile towards. It all stems from my Test debut at Bangalore in 1978 when his constant appealing in my short innings, I believe was responsible for me being given out unfairly. It was the day I cried my way back to the pavilion and the day I was humiliated in public. I will never forget the taunts and the disgrace and, possibly unfairly also, I saw Vengsarkar as the main culprit. I vowed revenge and in 1982-83, four long years later, I got it.

My anger had largely subsided by then and my broken pride repaired: I felt my main job was to help the West Indies win the series when the Indians arrived on their fifth tour of the Caribbean. Vengsarkar was just another fine batsman in a strong Indian batting line-up. Mohinder Amarnath and the durable Sunil Gavaskar were more likely to get in our way and any team with Kapil Dev in its ranks had to be taken seriously. Amarnath, in fact, emerged as the Man of the Series with 598 runs at an average of 66.44 but it scarcely mattered as far as we were concerned because we won the series 2-0 with India hanging on for draws in two of the other three matches.

By now I was bowling as fast as at any point in my career and I was determined that in helping the West Indies win I would also let India pay the price for my misery four years earlier. Although we played well within ourselves, it was a tour not without its acrimony. Indeed, the Indian manager, and former captain, Hanumant Singh felt obliged to lodge a complaint about what he felt was intimidatory short-pitched bowling by the West Indies and by me in particular. This was because of their much-vaunted batting, only Amarnath was finding it comfortable to cope with our pace and our tactics. He scored centuries in the Tests at Trinidad and Antigua, Gavaskar managed only one, in Guyana, and Vengsarkar none at all. He did, however, come close to getting one in Antigua and it was then that I pulled out everything to prevent him having the satisfaction of reaching three figures.

By way of a new strategy I was now bowling more and more around the wicket which meant the batsmen, mostly right-handers, were getting the ball angled across them and moreover, because I was coming from behind the umpire, they had less time to pick up the flight. Vengsarkar had done nothing in the previous four Tests to make me feel any better disposed to him. As he had done in India, he appealed time and again unnecessarily -- though he found the umpires rather less responsive. He had gone four Tests without a century and I was not going to let him get one now.

The St John's wicket could not have been more benign. It had absolutely nothing in it for the likes of me, Andy Roberts, playing on his home ground, or Winston Davis from St Vincent, making his Test debut in place of Joel Garner who was in need of a rest after a long, hard season playing for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield competition. It was a wicket made for the Indian stroke-makers - and that meant Vengsarkar. Kapil Dev lost the toss, as he did in every match, and Clive Lloyd made India bat first with the series already safely won.

Bowling around the wicket I soon had Gavaskar caught behind and with Gaekwad caught at slip by Richards off Roberts, to the delight of the Antiguan crowd, Vengsarkar arrived at the crease with Amarnath as his partner. Until Amarnath left the field with leg cramps, they were hitting us all over the Recreation Ground, as it is called, and my feelings of intense dislike - not hate - for Vengsarkar were stirred again when he became involved in what I believe was blatant gamesmanship. Standing at the non-striker's end while I was bowling, I heard him repeatedly telling the umpire while I was in earshot that I was over-stepping the crease and bowling no-balls.

If that was designed to upset and irritate me, then he certainly succeeded. I was furious and absolutely beside myself with anger as the memories of his performance at Bangalore flooded back. I have never felt like this about an opponent, either before or since, but I will admit now that I not only wanted to get him out, I didn't mind if I decapitated him in the process. I came in quicker than ever as he faced up to me, just 22 yards away, and I showered him with a hail of bouncers.

He was aggressive from the start of his innings and as he raced to his 50 and beyond, my desperation grew more intense by the run. There was no way I was going to let him get his century after what he had been trying to do to me. On he went, 60, 70 to 81 when our battle reached a new and crucial stage. Once more I let him have it with another bouncer which smacked into his helmet. That shook him but his response could not have been more positive. Realising now that I meant business, he took three boundaries from the remainder of my over in what I can only describe as risky shots. If I was desperate to get him out before he reached his hundred, he was becoming desperate to get there.

This was war. He was in the 90s now and within tantalising distance of his ton. Surely nothing could stop him, not even me bowling with fire in my belly. Once more I tore in and gave him yet another short-pitched delivery. On 94 there was no need for him to take any more risks, but Vengsarkar was rattled - I could tell that after hitting him on the helmet - and he was not behaving normally. He had been shifting nervously in his crease and he was patently as not as in command as a man six short of his century should have been. I sensed my chance. He went for the hook, top edged it and to my lasting delight, Davis held the catch on the long leg boundary. Another couple of yards and it would have been six runs - and his hundred.

I have never been more elated at a wicket nor so relieved at a dismissal and as he plodded dejectedly back to the dressing-room, my fury subsided and my ill-feeling towards the Indians and Vengsarkar, in particular, disappeared. My ghost had been laid and now I regard him, almost, as just another opponent, though I suppose I shall never forgive him fully for what happened in Bangalore -- or in Antigua.

I went on to take four for 87 in the innings but India took full advantage of the easy paced wicket to amass 457 with Ravi Shastri, batting at six, hitting 102 before being stumped off Larry Gomes. Then Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes each scored a century in putting on 296 for the first wicket on our way to a total of 550 of which my contribution, from number nine, was two. Jeff Dujon and Lloyd also made hundreds as the match drifted towards an inevitable draw, though the innings was marred by the illness of Gordon's daughter. He was batting brilliantly with 154 already to his credit when he had to retire in order to fly to her besides in Barbados. She died two days after the match was completed from a kidney disorder.

With a lead of 93 to overcome there was little for India to do except bat out time, but not before I had one last dash at Vengsarkar to prove I was now his master. The match was in its last day and even the vociferous Antiguan crowd appeared bored, unaware I still had a point to prove. In the last over before tea I had Gaekwad, the opener, leg before for 72, thereby ending a patient innings of nearly four hours and that brought Vengsarkar back to the crease. I was ready for him. In the same over, without a run to his name, I had him caught at the wicket. Game, set and match to Malcolm Marshall. Amarnath went on to score 116, the match duly died a death and Greenidge, enduring his beside vigil, was named Man of the Match for a century made under what must have been intolerable mental pressure.

For me, revenge had been sweet. The series was won and the exit of Vengsarkar for the second time in the match gave me a total of 21 wickets in the five Tests at an average of 23.57 each, not a bad haul in what was my first full series as an established bowler.

KIND COURTESY: Excerpted from Marshall Arts, by Malcom Marshall, Macdonald, Queen Anne Press, 1987.

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