Dennis Lillee has recalled the cautious beginnings of his famous partnership with Rod Marsh, admitting at the late wicketkeeper’s funeral service on Thursday he “still can’t believe his good mate isn’t around any more”.
Their combination ensured ‘c Marsh b Lillee’ featured 94 times in Test cricket scorebooks, the pair beginning and ending their careers at the same time and incredibly finishing with then world record 355 dismissals and wickets respectively.
Fast bowler Lillee was among the friends and family to speak at Thursday’s service at the Adelaide Oval that focused on Marsh’s love for cricket, golf, travel, family, friends and red wine.
But Lillee recalled his own reputation as a non-drinker meant things got off to a rocky start.
“I still can’t believe that our mate, and mate to many, isn’t around anymore,” he said.
“It’s taken me days to write my thoughts down on this amazing bloke.
“But I don’t want to talk about his cricketing ability … it’s the person Rod Marsh that I loved.
“I’ve got to say that it hasn’t always been that way; it was something that grew over time, even after our careers were finished.
“[After a day’s play, he said] ‘I’ve got to tell you, I don’t trust you … my old man Ken said never trust anyone that doesn’t drink’.”
Lillee reflected on a four-wheel-drive trip in the bush near Perth, when a punctured tyre meant they stopped just after spotting an eight-metre long snake.
“I said I’d watch out for the snake while Bacchus (Marsh) got under the car to lower the spare,” he said.
“I pinched one of his ankles …. he hit his head on the under-carriage and then shot out from under the car and got back in.
“I just couldn’t stop laughing, but it backfired as he refused to get out and I was left to change the tyre with one eye looking out for that bloody reptile.”
Marsh, who died on March 3 aged 74, played in 96 Tests, was the first Australian gloveman to make a Test century and played in the first one-day international – against England in Melbourne in 1971.
He later headed the cricket academies of Australia and England, and was inaugural head of an ICC world coaching academy in Dubai. He also became Australian chairman of selectors.
There were fond mentions of the family’s annual Big Calf Cup, a golf tournament named in honour of Marsh’s trunk-like lower legs that took them as far as the 2012 Masters.
The many Test cricketers in attendance at Thursday’s service formed a guard of honour afterward, while Marsh’s golfing mates detailed the incredible skill, competitiveness and confidence still on show in their regular rounds.
Older brother Graham, a retired golf professional with a PGA Tour win among his 69 career titles, recalled the brothers’ childhood in Western Australia playing cricket with their father.
“Rod couldn’t get enough, throwing himself at any ball that came near him. Even one directed at me, he’d grab right from under my nose,” he said.
“I read a wonderful tribute to Rod penned by his great friend Ian Chappell, descriptively recounting he had the same problem at first slip, playing for Australia some 20 years later.”
He also told how their mother’s hopes of Marsh, also a talented musician, becoming a concert pianist were dashed, while he also came in swinging when a bully threatened his big brother.
“I always wanted to be on his team and he’d do anything to protect his family,” he said.
“They say younger brothers often walk in the shadow of their older brothers. But, baby brother, it’s been an honour to walk in your shadow.”