Bay City Rollers were a Edinburgh-based pop band in the swingin’ sixties, who produced a hit early on in their career called ‘Saturday Night’.
The song topped the charts in the western world and the group was immediately heralded unanimously as the ‘biggest thing since The Beatles’.
Today, they’re better known for helping music critics coin the phrase ‘one-hit wonder’.
‘Bay City Roller’, incidentally, was also the nickname bestowed upon Douglas Marillier, a two-hit marvel, by his Zimbabwean team-mates. For those who didn’t care enough to follow Zimbabwe’s cricket closely enough in the early part of the turbulent 2000s, Marillier will always be known for his ODI cameos in Perth and Faridabad. And for inventing what we now know as the lap shot.
“Perth and Faridabad. Faridabad and Perth. That’s what my career in cricket has boiled down to,” Marillier says, seated under the awning of a Harare pub in crisp formals. He’s runs a real-estate company called Marillier Properties now and looks the part.
But it was his hunt for new avenues on a cricket field that we are here to talk about. “I loved playing those knocks, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a bit agitating to be remembered for absolutely nothing else.”
Memory, I assure him, is a double edged sword. Because for the matches he’s remembered for, absolutely nobody else is.
In that one-dayer at the WACA 14 years ago, Damien Martyn cracked a 144 for Australia and in reply, Stuart Carlisle made 119 and Grant Flower 85. But the entire match is remembered for five balls that Marillier faced and the 12 incredible runs he made from it.
With 15 to win from the last over and Zimbabwe chasing 303 for a historic win over Australia, Marillier twice lapped Glenn McGrath in consecutive balls, having never faced him before or a ball in this match, both times from the base of off-stump to over fine-leg for four. It wasn’t to be that day as Zimbabwe lost the thriller by 1 run.
But Marillier wasn’t done yet. A year later in India, Marillier walked into a hopeless lost chase at number 10, with his side still needing 65 runs from 5.2 overs.
With two wickets in hand. He ramped, scooped, swept and lapped Zaheer Khan several times to get to a 21-ball fifty, recording his country’s most shocking ODI win along the way.
Shocking would be an apt way to describe most incidents that have occurred in Marillier’s 37-year old life. Those two knocks. The fact that he nearly died in a car crash at 16. The fact that he still has legs, let alone played cricket.
The fact that he retired at 24. But the most shocking aspect of his life, by a fair distance, is the fact that Marillier almost completely missed playing the T20 game, a format that his strokes pretty much ushered in.
“Yah, that’s life. I had a family to feed and wasn’t getting picked by 2003 and decided to get into the property business. But when I watch the game these days I think my game could’ve been suited to it, especially the T20 stuff,” he says, modest to the core.
But doesn’t he pride himself for being a pioneer, for trying shots that no one ever dreamed of 15 years back, shots that only the very best T20 big shots such as AB de Villiers bother to try even now? Marillier laughs, summons great wit and says: “Nah. My friends are quick to remind me that the shot is named after Tillakaratne Dilshan. They haven’t heard of anything called the ‘Doug-scoop.’”
The Marillier story begins at 16. It nearly ended there as well. On one wintry morning, his friend’s car was hurtling down the avenues in Harare at a decent speed and smacked into a truck at an intersection. The friend and his grandfather died on the spot. Marillier, seated at the back-left, had both his legs crushed.
“I was told in the hospital that they would amputate my left leg. We wanted to consult more doctors but they all said the same thing,” Marillier says, pointing at various parts of his foot in a show-and-tell.
“Till one young chap, by the name of Dr Bowers, said he could try alternate therapy and we thought, ‘Great, nothing to lose’.”
Nothing to lose is a recurring theme in his life. For a year he was bound to a wheelchair. Then, just four years later, he was playing international cricket for Zimbabwe. And his most famous creation would soon see light of day, almost by chance.
“I was batting in Taupo, New Zealand, and Chris Martin was the bowler. And I was stepping back and across, trying to hit him over extra cover,” he says, setting it up.
“I got away with it once or twice. But the third time, I retreated midway in my shuffle and Martin followed me with a beamer. That meant I was inside the line of the ball and just helped it along the way for four.”
That happened exactly a month before the Perth game. For 99 overs in that match, Marillier didn’t have a role to play. The last over would go on to define his life.
“As I was walking in to bat at the WACA, Zim needing 15 from the last over, Andy Flower stopped me in my tracks and said, ‘Douglas, what’s your plan?’ I’m never a man with a plan. But just to get to Andy I said I’m going to sweep him. It really got his goat.” And McGrath’s.
“When I picked the first one from outside off and got four for it, I could see it got to Glenn. ‘How can this bloody upstart do this to me?’ he must have thought,” Marillier says, chuckling. “Anyway, I was expecting the next ball to be near my ears. But McGrath went yorker outside off again. And I got four more.”
Two lapped fours, a double and a single gave Dirk Viljoen strike. He returned it immediately with a run, leaving Marillier with three to win off the last ball. And two to tie.
“Dirk met me pitch-side and said ‘Don’t play the sweep again. They’ve got you covered.’ You see, fine-leg had gone back and mid-on had come up. And Dirk wanted me to go over mid-on,” he says. “I shouldn’t have listened to him and backed my instincts.”
No stopping him
In Faridabad, though, he didn’t let anybody come in the way. “When I walked out to bat in India, Andy didn’t stop me. No one did. It was too lost a cause for panic. But I just felt good that day. Like I had nothing to lose and India had everything to,” he says.
But why didn’t he look to score runs the conventional way?
“There was Zaheer Khan, who had taken four wickets up until that point and Anil Kumble, one of the best bowlers in the world. The only way I was going to score against them was if I hit the ball where there weren’t fielders. And there’s never a fielder behind the ‘keeper.” Ajay Ratra, then, had the best view to Marillier’s mania, as the batsman constantly turned 180 degrees to play the ball in the ‘A’.
“I still claim that Gary Brent (number 11) won us that match by taking the most important single in the final over,” Marillier says. Brent returned the strike to score his only run of the game and Marillier backed his instinct this time by scooping Kumble over Ratra’s head for four. And the win. It will always be his finest moment.