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They play such grand roles!

Updated on: 16 November,2023 07:34 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Clayton Murzello |

Grandparents have played pivotal roles in the development of cricketers and Australia’s Mitchell Marsh’s decision to leave the ongoing World Cup for a few days to witness his grandad Ross’s last days on this earth, is testimony to how much he regarded him

They play such grand roles!

Australian cricketer and the grandfather of Ian Chappell (inset), Victor Richardson before a match at Worcester on the 1930 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloI’ll be home for a little bit and then I’m coming back to win this World Cup.” This message which Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh sent to teammates before flying home to Western Australia, where his grandfather Ross was spending the last few days of his life, was more than just a promise. It was a pledge. After his 24 against Afghanistan on his return to the squad, he smashed a stunning century (177 in 132 balls, 17x4, 9x6) against Bangladesh.

It was a big call to leave the team and return home albeit for only a game (v England at Ahmedabad on November 4) but it showed how much his grandfather meant to him. “My pop [grandfather] was a great man and a huge cricket supporter,” Marsh told the media after his grand show at Pune, a city he represented in three Indian Premier League seasons.

This was a day after he had watched his grandfather’s funeral on live stream. Marsh is not the first player to score a hundred after the death of a grandad. New Zealand’s opening batsman Nathan Astle did similarly in the opening match of the 1996 World Cup in Ahmedabad. “Two days before leaving for the World Cup, I lost my grandfather. He was very close to me and my grandmother told me to score a hundred for him,” Astle told me outside his hotel room a few hours after he put the English attack to sword for a winning start to New Zealand’s campaign.

Receiving news of a relative’s death can be daunting for a sportsperson on tour or during a series. Before emerging an England fast bowling great, Fred Trueman was doing his bit to help England clinch the 1953 Ashes for the first time since the Bodyline series of 1932-33. After England secured their win at the Oval, Trueman was handed two telegrams. One was from the Royal Air Force base in Hemswell, instructing him to return for duty by 23:59 hours that night and the second was to inform him of the death of his maternal grandmother Elizabeth Stimpson at 82. According to Trueman’s biographer Chris Waters, she passed away during the second day of the Test, but the family chose to break the news to him only at the conclusion of the Test.

Similarly, Mohammed Azharuddin was not told about his grandfather’s death during the India U-25 v England game in 1984. The side’s skipper Ravi Shastri was handed a telegram as Azharuddin was padded up and ready to bat. When Azharuddin saw his name on the telegram he asked Shastri to give it to him. “Grandfather serious. Start immediately.” Shastri insisted he stay and telephoned his 1983 World Cup manager PR Mansingh in Hyderabad. Mansingh told Shastri that Azharuddin’s grandfather had already expired but this was not told to the future India star, who went on to make a hundred in that game. In Azhar, The Authorised Biography of Mohammed Azharuddin, Harsha Bhogle wrote: “He [Azharuddin] returned to Hyderabad as soon as the game was over. His father was at the airport, standing alone, waiting for him. ‘Sab kuchh ho gaya na, Abba,’ he said before embracing his father. Nothing had been said and yet, Azhar knew it was all over. The man who had guided him all this time had left him at the doorstep of success.”

Ian Chappell, who was deputy to Bill Lawry on the tour of India in 1969-70, took an important call from his then wife Kay at Pune (Australians v West Zone), where he was told that his maternal grandfather Vic Richardson had departed in Adelaide. Richardson, a former Test captain, chose not to be overbearing when it came to his eldest grandson’s cricket. He would quietly watch him under a tree. However, he harped on being immaculately dressed as a cricketer and never led a team like a Victorian, which meant always attack.

In July 2002, during the NatWest Series, Sachin Tendulkar received the news of the death of his grandmother Indumati Tendulkar. He appeared sullen at the nets although his work schedule did not suffer. “She did not know much about my cricket, but always told me to look after myself and keep good health,” Tendulkar told me at the Oval.

Talking of grandmothers, Joel Garner, the West Indies fast bowling great, devoted a good amount of space while writing on his grandmother Edith in the book Big Bird Flying High. “Gran” as Garner referred to her in the book was dead against him playing cricket. The Garner boys—Joel and Bob—were looked after by their grandparents when their parents migrated to Canada and USA.

Edith didn’t spare the rod on the tall fast bowler when he ran off to play cricket with his Bajan friends.

“Make something of yourself, boy. Get a good education. They can take everything away from you, but they can’t take away what you’ve got in your head,” she would tell him. But cricket was Garner’s calling and it was during those youthful years that he approached Greg Chappell, fielding on the Bridgetown boundary line in 1973, asking him to sign his dollar note. After Chappell obliged him, Garner told Chappell that he’d play against him someday. That happened in 1977-78 when Garner joined Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. By then, Garner’s grandmother had resigned to the fact that her grandson was not going to be anything except a dreaded fast bowler.

Interestingly, Garner had her in mind when he signed up for Kerry Packer’s rebels. “I was supporting my grandmother, and I wanted her, whom I loved so dearly, to have the basic comforts in her old age. It was the least that I could do for Gran after all that she had done for me,” he wrote.

Garner went on to be a feared bowler, who was particularly invaluable in ODI cricket. He was one of the reasons for West Indies winning the World Cup final in 1979, their second and last ODI World Cup win. Now, depending on what happens at the Eden Gardens today, Marsh can have that opportunity to be a World Cup final hero. And his late grandfather Ross will occupy his mind space.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.
He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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