Cricket folklore is littered with tales of heroes who have single-handedly defeated the best efforts of all 11 members of the opposition.
Jim Laker’s 19 wickets against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956 has never been seriously challenged as the greatest individual performance by a bowler in Tests.
Inzamam-ul-Haq’s imperious 329 against New Zealand at Lahore in 2002 which meant the big man effectively forced the Black Caps to follow-on when they were bowled out for 73 – 256 adrift of his score – before eventually crumbling to defeat by an innings and 324 runs.
Or, as it were, an innings and Inzy.
Don Bradman against England in 1930. And in 1934. And again in 1936-37. As well as against South Africa in ‘31-32. And Australia’s first series against India in 1947-48.
But few can claim to have quite literally taken on a rival Test team with the use of one hand and with such stunning effect as the late and great West Indian all-rounder Malcolm Marshall managed against England at Headingly 30 years ago.
Marshall, regarded by many as the most explosive talent to have played the game, had dismantled England’s batting in the preceding Test of that famous 1984 ‘blackwash’ series when he captured eight wickets at Lord’s.
So the home team’s gun-shy batsmen collectively offered up a silent prayer of thanks when, on the opening day of the third Test at Headingley their chief tormentor attempted to stop a ball that flew from the bat of England opener Chris Broad and sustained a double fracture of his left thumb in doing so.
Even though his bowling hand remained intact, doctors advised Marshall he should not only withdraw from the remainder of the Test but should not even attempt to play cricket for the next 10 days as the damaged bones set about healing.
But on the third morning, as Larry Gomes played a different kind of lone hand in an attempt to lift his team past England’s first innings total of 270, Marshall came bounding down the Yorkshire Cricket Club pavilion stairs at the fall of the ninth wicket.
It was a surprise to Gomes who was already heading from the field in the belief he had been left stranded on 96 not out.
Marshall later claimed he had not intended to risk further injury by batting in the Test “but with Larry close to his hundred I thought I would give it a go.”
With his left hand encased in plaster and bound in a white bandage, Marshall somehow slipped his damaged paw inside a batting glove rather like a heavyweight boxer about to enter the ring, and then scampered up and down the pitch enough times to see Gomes to his hundred.
But with that milestone achieved, the much-feared and equally admired all-rounder opted not to head back to the sheds but to face up to England’s pace bowlers, defiantly waving the bat with his right hand like a swordsman preparing to do battle with a Leopard tank.
He aimed an ambitious, extravagant drive at Paul Allott with a movement that rather resembled someone trying to skim a pebble across a creek and, upon failing to make contact, rested his injured hand on his left hip and broke into a laugh beneath his ‘protective’ floppy white hat.
His next attempt brought success and spectator acclaim, as he backed away to protect his injury and executed a deft glide past gully for a boundary.
And then his ungainly French cricket-style defensive push yielded a sharp catch to Ian Botham in the slips cordon and England figured they had seen the last of him for the Test.
Until Marshall appeared on the field at the start of England’s second innings, bandaged halfway to his left elbow, and measured out his trademark angular run-up in preparation to share the new-ball with Joel Garner.
Not only did the one-armed Bajan snare the initial breakthrough when he had Broad caught at leg gully from a vicious lifting delivery, he tore through England’s frail batting to finish with the extraordinary figures of 7-53 from 26 overs bowled through throbbing pain and no small inconvenience.
That represented the best Test figures to that stage of his stellar career, and were only bettered four years later when he returned to England and took 7-22 at Old Trafford.
As if to inflict one final humiliation as the West Indies ultimately romped to an eight-wicket win, Marshall removed the other opener Graeme Fowler – the only England batsman to reach 50 in that innings – via a smart, waist-high caught and bowled chance.
Which he completed one-handed, of course.