What a dark day for Australian cricket. What a dreadful day for cricket everywhere. What a sad irony that the last tweet we heard from Shane Warne was to mourn the death of Rodney Marsh.
Many have written their tributes to both already. Tales recounted of Iron Gloves, 95 ‘Caught Marsh Bowled Lillee’ dismissals, 708 Warne Test wickets and of course the ‘Ball of the Century’.
Those who knew them well, played alongside them, or shared a commentary box with them, have given recollections that will have brought tears to even the driest eye. I am not going to attempt here, a hollow emulation of words already better said.
Both Rodney Marsh and Shane Warne though have their unique places in my personal sporting and cricketing journey. Although I suspect that they will have sadly passed unaware of it, each created magical father and son moments across generations of the Bishop family.
Rodney Marsh was at my Test Cricket baptism and made an instant impact. Sat in what is now the OCS stand at the Oval with my father, 11th August 1972 was Day 2 of the match, but my first day of Test cricket. Precious for that alone, but also because of the father and son time that came with it. Nine down from Day One, as we were settling excitedly into our seats at the home of Surrey, it was two men of Kent, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood who were looking to add vital late runs for England. APE Knott, one of England’s finest wicket keepers was ticking along nicely too and was into the nervous 90’s when a vicious rising ball from Dennis Lillee found the edge and thumped into the gloves of his opposite number, who else, but Rodney Marsh. ‘Caught Marsh, Bowled Lillee’, of course. It was the second time in that innings and the tenth of the 95 that the Western Australian pair would take together. And it was the very first Test wicket I had seen live.
Never mind that it was an English batsman in their 90s. Little matter that the Chappells, Ian and Greg, went on that day to become the first brothers to both score centuries in the same innings of a Test match. It was the day I fell in love with Test cricket and the Iron Gloves of Rodney Marsh did their job superbly as they would so often behind the stumps to DK Lillee. Knott caught Marsh. Two wonderful keepers, who could barely have been more different in style, but both immortalised in my personal cricket journey.
RIP Rodney Marsh. Thank you from me and my 13-year-old self for being part of the wonderful day with my father that led to my lifelong love of cricket.
Mike Gatting was the man to face Shane Warne’s ‘Ball of the Century’ in the real world. Bemused and befuddled, he played the role of straight man to Warne’s theatrics and wizardry. Mike has dined out on it ever since, such was the iconic nature of that sporting moment.
In 2019, Guerilla Cricket visited BatFast to face computer generated recreations of some of cricket’s greatest ever deliveries. Prime amongst them, of course, was that Shane Warne ball. Poor Mike Gatting had no idea what was coming and by the time it had come and gone, so had he. I, on the other hand, thought I knew exactly what to expect. Confident and fully prepared, a premeditated step outside leg and forward lunge, only saw the ball fizz past me. A ball I had watched live on TV and then hundreds of times on film and video since, was still way too good for my blind and desperate defence. The sheer audacity and sorcery of it left me looking the fool as it had done Mike Gatting on that June day in 1993.
My personal encounter with the real Shane Keith Warne (rather than his robot version) came about, oddly enough, through football rather than cricket. And if Rodney Marsh played his role in a magical occasion with my father, then Shane did the same for my eldest son Louis and I.
The UK’s Football Championship Play Off Final on Sunday 21st May 2006 was held in Cardiff between our beloved Watford and Leeds United, the clear favourites. To make a weekend of it, we had decided to drive down the day before and stay overnight. For some reason, that I can only now put down to kismet, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Taunton, reasoning that driving back up to Cardiff would involve less traffic from there than from London. Certainly not in our planning was the fact that Hampshire were playing at Taunton on the Sunday. As we arrived at the hotel, so too did the Hampshire team, captained by none other than Shane Warne. I can recall my own excitement, but the awe-struck wonderment of an 8-year-old Louis was a joy to behold. It says everything about the appeal of the man that turned leg spin into an art form transcendent of cricket alone. With the aura that made him the centre of attention for admirers young and old, that evening Shane stood surrounded at the hotel bar, drink in hand and ever ready to chat. An autograph, of course, was readily signed.
The next day, our Watford team breezed past Leeds by 3 goals to nil. Promotion to the Premier league achieved in cauldron of excitement generated by a 70,000 crowd beneath the closed Millennium roof.
Through the eyes of Louis, that weekend was the making of memories of a lifetime. A huge win for our football team AND meeting cricket’s greatest ever bowler. To this day, for all his love of Watford, the encounter with Shane Warne still holds top billing.
RIP Shane Warne. Thank you for the Ball of Century. You can rest knowing that it’s still unplayable. Thank you too, from Louis and I, for making a shared sporting weekend truly unforgettable.