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November 19, 1999


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Macco and I had a healthy rivalry

Dilip Vengsarkar

Malcolm Marshall It was a rude shock that the cricketing world work up to a fortnight ago -- that of the demise of one of the most dreaded fast bowlers. Malcolm Marshall, at the age of 41. It is, indeed, rather difficult to come to terms with the fact that Macco, as he was called by his colleagues and those who played against him, is no more.

I recall meeting Macco for the first time when he came with the West Indies team to India in 1978-79. He was 'tiny', as compared to the other West Indian fast bowlers who comprised Alvin Kallicharran's team. Though small-built, he was, nevertheless, physically very strong and an extremely fit young man for 19. Whenever we met off the field on that our, he always spoke to me very affectionately, half of which, unfortunately, I couldn't understand. He had that peculiar Bajan accent, you see.

I particularly recall his exploits on the Calcutta leg of that tour, especially his spell on the third evening. He was quick and lethal, but very unlucky not to have got a couple of wickets. At the end of the day's play he was virtually in tears, which showed that he was not only extremely emotional but took great pride in his performances too. However, that spell apart, he hardly bowled with the same kind of ferocity in the remaining Tests of the series.

Malcolm Marshall Years later, he bowled at his best when he returned to India following the West Indies debacle in the World Cup of '83. I believe he took the defeat to heart and was keen to settle scores with the Indians. He certainly was at the peak of his career then.

I wouldn't hesitate to rate his spell in the series opener at Kanpur as one of the best I've ever faced from a fast bowler in my entire career. I well remember the delivery with which he bowled me -- God alone knows, it was almost unplayable. It pitched around leg stump - at a speed of 90-odd miles per hour, mind you - and before I could move I saw my offstump cartwheeling.

Macco was just the kind of bowler you could never tame. No matter how much you tried to do so by being aggressive, he would bounce back with something extra special. Be it movement or sheer pace, he was, by far, the most attacking bowler I've ever played against.

I must say, however, that I was rather astonished to read his biography published several years later. In it, he accused me of cheating him out on his debut at Bangalore by appealing excessively, and that it made him put in that extra effort to try and generate more pace to dismiss me whenever I came in to bat in subsequent Tests.

Well, I'd like to specifically state the fact that on his debut tour I was never involved in his dismissal. I could have only been involved if I had taken a bat-pad catch to dismiss him, but that was not the case. And I mentioned I was surprised to read his biography because, throughout that tour and until India toured the West Indies in 1983, not once did he give me the impression that he held anything against me for his dismissal on debut. In fact, whenever we met, it was always most cordial.

Malcolm Marshall I spoke of our 1983 tour because there was a little incident which took place during the last Test at Antigua. I was batting with 70-odd runs to my credit, and Ravi Shastri was the non-striker. Together we were building up a good partnership, and the West Indian bowlers were getting frustrated with their inability to secure a breakthrough. At that point of time, Macco took to bowling around the wicket, aiming at my head. I was expecting that to happen sooner or later, as Clive Lloyd had more than once adopted such tactics when things did not go his way.

As the ball kept coming at us at 90 mph, Ravi noticed that Macco was bowling from 20 yards and the umpire, unfortunately, preferred to remain a mute spectator to it. At the end of the over, Ravi walked across to me and informed me of Macco overstepping. I immediately told Ravi, 'the next time Macco oversteps, walk down to the spot and draw a line with your bat. And make sure the umpire watches you do that'.

Viv Richards, who heard it, needled Macco and that infuriated him no end. He bowled a bouncer which hit me on the head and broke my helmet. But I showed it did not deter me by hitting him for three consecutive fours off the next three deliveries. Unfortunately for me though, while on 94, I top-edged a bouncer to Winston Davis, at deep fine leg, who took the catch inches inside the boundary. Had I connected, it would have cleared the ground by many a mile.

Quite expectedly, there was a war-dance, with Viv, as usual, taking the lead. From that day onwards, I guess the battle lines were drawn. But I believe we had a healthy rivalry about which we spoke for hours at length when we met at Sharjah for the Masters tournament a couple of years ago.

Macco's record of 378 wickets in only 81 Tests is simply mindboggling. He was truly one of the greatest fast bowlers ever to have trampled upon the green turf. His sudden demise has left a tremendous void which international cricket will find hard to fill. RIP.

Dilip Vengsarkar

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