Australia’s acrobatic wicketkeeper who became part of folklore

When he debuted for West Perth’s first XI, he was a specialist batsman; established WA wicketkeeper Gordon Becker also represented the club. To further his keeping, Marsh joined the University Club. He made his first-class debut for WA as a specialist batsman against the touring West Indies in 1968–69. He had an up-and-down start, scoring 0 and 104. He married Roslyn in 1969 in WA.

Rodney Marsh dives full length to his right to dismiss World XI captain Garry Sobers for a duck off the bowling of Graeme Watson. Dec 6, 1971.Credit:Fairfax

Marsh started a line of world-class Australian wicketkeeper batsmen. Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist followed in his padded footsteps. Marsh scored 3633 runs at an average of 26.51 with three centuries and 16 fifties, 343 catches and 12 stumpings in 96 Tests.

Thickset in build with hairy legs and hairier lips, Marsh was combative in approach. His combination of concentration, determination, diving athleticism and skilled glovework made him an object of admiration and inspiration. His tactical expertise and people skills provided a recipe to make him an ideal captain but doors did not open for him.

He thought both deeply and on the spot. He had pleaded with skipper Greg Chappell not to instruct Trevor Chappell to bowl that notorious underarm delivery in a one-day international against New Zealand at the MCG in February 1981. But Greg did not listen, and it became one of the worst controversies in cricket’s history.

Rod Marsh after stumps on January 3, 1981.

Rod Marsh after stumps on January 3, 1981.Credit:Fairfax

Marsh became the first Australian keeper to record a Test century when he scored 118 runs against Pakistan in Adelaide in December 1972. He hit two more Test hundreds: against New Zealand, also in Adelaide, a year later and against England in the historic Centenary Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March 1977.

This was also the first century by an Australian keeper against England. In the same match, Marsh eclipsed Wally Grout’s record of 187 Test dismissals. Earlier, he had narrowly missed hitting a Test hundred in the January 1971 Test, his fifth, when captain Bill Lawry declared the innings closed with Marsh unbeaten on 92.

Rod Marsh launching Swan Breweries' new light beer with Alan Bond, 1984.

Rod Marsh launching Swan Breweries’ new light beer with Alan Bond, 1984.Credit:Fairfax

Let Marsh narrate this tale of a missed milestone from his autobiography, You’ll Keep (written with Ian Brayshaw) in 1975: “Even his [Lawry’s] own partisan crowd could not remain faithful to him after he declared with my score only eight runs short of a century, which would have been the first by an Australian keeper in a Test match. I wasn’t at all upset about it.”

Marsh was more than just a successful wicketkeeper batsman. His contribution was more than just statistical. He was eye-catching when hitting fours, taking diving catches or stumping amazed batsmen at Test, first-class and in limited-overs cricket. And he spoke his mind without fear.

After retirement, he joined the Channel 9 commentary team. But his views on too many one-day matches angered Kerry Packer, so Marsh was sacked. This turned out well for him and for Australia as he enhanced his reputation as the head coach of the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Rodney Marsh at Bradman Oval, Bowral, in 1998.

Rodney Marsh at Bradman Oval, Bowral, in 1998.Credit:Fairfax

The multi-talented Marsh was quick to spot the talents of Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, among others. In 2001, he ventured overseas where he was appointed head of England’s national academy and was also appointed an England selector. He stepped down in September 2005, England having just won the Ashes for the first time in 16 years. What a glove of irony.

Marsh was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1982 new year honors and inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985. He received an Australia Sports Medal in 2000 and a Centenary Medal in 2001. Four years later, he was inducted into the Cricket Hall of Fame by Cricket Australia.

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He authored four cricket books: You’ll KeepGloves of IronyThe Inside Edge and Gloves, Sweat and Tears.

His son, Dan, is a former captain of the Tasmanian cricket team, and his son, Paul, is the chief executive of the AFL Players Association.

Rod Marsh appeared in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are† in 2010 where it was revealed that his grandmother had died after giving birth to one of his aunts, leading his grandfather to put their three children, including Marsh’s father, Ken, up for adoption.

On February 24, Marsh suffered a heart attack while on his way to a charity event in Queensland. He died in hospital in Adelaide on Friday.

Marsh survived by his wife, Ros, and sons Paul, Dan and Jamie.

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