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Cricket World Cup history: Andy Roberts, pioneer among modern West Indies pace giants

ANALYST
Feature
441   //    13 Jun 2019, 18:33 IST

Andy Roberts
Andy Roberts

The biggest casualty of the arrival of one-day cricket at the highest level has been the specialist bowler. Penetrative bowlers, whether speedsters or spinners, are forced to curb their attacking instincts. They are coerced into bowling a mechanical line and length.

The pacemen often have to sacrifice speed, and the slow bowlers are unable to experiment much with their flight and variations. The short ball above shoulder height was totally outlawed in this form of the game till recently, taking away a genuine weapon from a fast bowler and making ordinary batsmen look like titans. To complete the picture, wickets are for the most part flat.

The players who flourish the most in the limited-overs game are top-order batsmen and all-rounders, including batsmen who bowl a bit. For the specialist bowler, this version of the game can be an extremely frustrating experience. Allowed just 10 - 12 earlier - overs in the entire match, they are not able to give full vent to their skills.

It is rare that a specialist bowler excels in the truncated game, even rarer that he finds a place among the top-ranking players.

Andy Roberts, the first of the modern line of West Indies fast bowlers, and one of the greats in Test cricket, was one who performed creditably in the World Cup. His quiet demeanour belied his standing as a fearsome pacer with a lethal bouncer, of which he bowled three variants.

In one-day cricket too he would generate a fair degree of pace while bowling a controlled line and length. He invariably found himself among the wickets.

Their first match of the 1975 World Cup against an emerging Sri Lankan side saw Roberts turn out a fine performance. In his 12 overs he bowled 5 maidens and took two wickets for 16 runs as Sri Lanka folded early against the pace quartet of - besides Roberts - Keith Boyce, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder.

In that amazing game against Pakistan, Roberts gave away 47 runs in his 12 overs, taking one wicket. But in the unlikely role of batsman - at No. 11 - Roberts helped Deryck Murray add 64 runs for the last wicket to register an astonishing win with two balls to spare.

When required, Roberts could wield the long handle, and even defend, and this was one occasion when he used his batting ability to good effect.

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Next, in a surprisingly one-sided clash, Roberts, in tandem with Julien and Boyce, jolted the Australian top-order. He trapped opener Alan Turner leg-before for 7 as the strong line-up collapsed in the face of the sustained hostility of the West Indies pace battery.

Roberts returned to snuff out all life from the innings, ensuring that southpaw wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh - battling with a half-century to his credit - did not stage a rearguard action along with the tail-enders. Roberts quickly sent back Dennis Lillee and Ashley Mallet to finish with three for 39 off 10.4 overs. The West Indies batsmen were left with a modest target to attain.

In the semi-final, Roberts claimed in quick succession the key New Zealand wickets of Glenn Turner and Geoff Howarth, who had put on 90 runs for the second wicket. He finished with two for 18 off 11 overs, three of which were maidens.

The final was a thrilling affair but Roberts went wicketless, conceding 45 runs in his 11 overs. It was, nevertheless, a fruitful tournament for him, his role crucial in the glorious Caribbean triumph.

In 1979, the West Indies assembled a tremendous array of fast bowlers - Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft - and a certain Malcolm Marshall, who remained among the reserves throughout this tournament. This was arguably the greatest pace attack in history.

Sir Garfield Sobers described the change in Roberts' approach thus: "(Initially) he was an out and out fast bowler, running into the wicket very quickly and putting everything into his delivery. He now varies his pace and thinks a lot about his bowling. He has a good bouncer and yorker but he doesn't overdo these and doesn't waste the bouncer. In short, a bowler of class."

Roberts began the campaign in style, dismissing maestro Sunil Gavaskar cheaply, caught by fast bowling mate Holding. He wound up the Indian innings by sending back another maestro, of a different art, Bishan Singh Bedi. Roberts had figures of two for 32 off 9.1 overs.

The game against Sri Lanka was washed out without a ball being bowled. The next time this occurred in the World Cup was in 2015, when hosts Australia were due to play Bangladesh at Brisbane.

Roberts was at his best as New Zealand pursued the West Indies total of 244. As a potentially dangerous partnership between Glenn Turner and Jeremy Coney began to take root, he had the former snapped up by Clive Lloyd.

He then cut short the fine innings of Mark Burgess and castled top-scorer Richard Hadlee, pre-empting any plan the spirited Kiwis may have had of staging an upset. Roberts returned with a bag of three for 43 off 12 overs. 

Pakistan were the opponents in the semi-final, and Roberts sealed the West Indies win by taking the last two wickets. His haul was two for 41 off 9.2 overs.

The final turned one-sided as much by the inept batting of the English as by a superb display of top-class pace bowling by Roberts’ other three colleagues. Roberts himself was unable to get a wicket in his 9 overs, giving away 33 runs.

Roberts was still the spearhead in the third World Cup in 1983, though just past his prime and being pushed for a place in the side by younger men. He finished with nought for 51 off 12 overs in the upset at the hands of a gritty Indian side.

Against the Australian team, Roberts got the wicket of opener Kepler Wessels at a cost of 14 runs off 7 overs. The Zimbabweans, however, felt the full impact of his crafty bowling as he claimed three wickets for 36 runs off 12 overs, four of which were maidens.

As the West Indies re-asserted their pride in the return match against India, Roberts took two for 29 off 9 overs, having both the openers Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri caught at the wicket by Jeffrey Dujon with only 21 runs on the board.

Roberts was again in prime form as the West Indies faced Pakistan in the semi-final for the second time running. He did the crowd a favour by knocking back the stumps of opener Mohsin Khan, who had batted for nearly four hours for his 70 runs with just one boundary. Later he dismissed Sarfraz Nawaz to finish with two for 25 off his 12 overs.

With the West Indies set for a hat-trick of World Cup titles, Roberts and Garner harried the Indian openers Gavaskar and Srikkanth. Roberts put the former out of his misery, getting him to nick one to Dujon. Then he helped demolish the lower order, dismissing Kirti Azad and Roger Binny cheaply.

His analysis in his last World Cup appearance was 10-3-32-3. The Indian bowlers then spoiled the script for the Caribbean giants by pulling off a sensational win.

Roberts departed the scene with 26 wickets - which was then a World Cup record - in 16 matches. The poker-faced pacer seemed to sway from one side to the other as he ran in to bowl, but he seldom wavered in length or direction, and at his speed he was penetrative and always extremely difficult to score off.

He was one of the finest fast bowlers in Test cricket as well as one-day cricket. His World Cup record provides ample testimony of his greatness, and he played a major role in taking the West Indies to the very pinnacle of the game.

Andy Roberts’ World Cup record:

Matches 16, Wickets 26, Average 21.23, Best 3/32, Economy 3.24

Also read - World cup winners list

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