Over the years, the West Indies have had a bunch of legendary fast bowlers, right from Andy “The Hitman” Roberts and the rest of the four horsemen to the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Many believed that the legacy ended with retirement of Courtney Walsh.
A few more fast bowlers like Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor came up and showed some promise, but could not fulfil their potential. And then along came Kemar Roach. He may not quite be physically built like Garner, Holding, Ambrose or Walsh were, and he no longer possesses the pace that he once did. The Barbadian pacer simply was not what someone would call a ‘generational talent’.
But Kemar Roach continues to toil hard on the field for West Indies and now leads the pack of bowlers on the team’s journey from the depths of defeat to rejuvenation.
Kemar Roach made his test debut in 2008 against Bangladesh when most of the first XI refused to play owing to a payments dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board. Floyd Reifer, who had played the last of his 4 Test matches until then a decade earlier, was the captain of the side.
Although West Indies lost that Test and the series to Bangladesh, Kemar Roach made an impressive debut. The skipper for the series was pleased with the rookie pacer.
"The first time I saw him as an under-19 bowler, I always thought he was going to play for West Indies. He does a lot, especially with the old ball, getting it to move in and out,” Floyd Riefer had said.
Playing against Australia towards the end of 2009, Kemar Roach grabbed everyone’s attention with his pace and aggression. He touched the 150 kmph mark quite regularly during that tour.
Ricky Ponting was hit on the elbow by a nasty delivery from Kemar Roach during the last Test of the series and had to be taken to the hospital. But the the Aussie skipper was really impressed with the young tearaway quick.
“Someone who is pretty short at that pace can get the ball to skid onto you pretty quickly off the wicket with not much bounce. We've played him pretty well here [in Adelaide]. The ball reverse-swung for them in both innings. He's a handful, there's no doubt about that.”
In 2012, Kemar Roach became the first West Indian bowler to take a 10-wicket match haul in 7 years. The last man to do so was Corey Colleymore in 2005, during Australia’s tour of the West Indies. This also marked the first 10-wicket haul against Australia by a West Indian bowler after Sir Curtley Ambrose had done it in 1993.
Kemar Roach was making inroads in the limited-overs arena as well. He made his ODI debut against Bermuda in 2009. In the next five years, the fast bowler took 91 wickets from 50 matches at an economy rate of under 5 runs.
Kemar Roach represented the West Indian team in the 2010 World T20, and also got an IPL contract from Deccan Chargers that year. However, his T20 career was not as successful and came to an abrupt end in the year 2012.
Luck hasn't been the kindest to the pacer either. In his 13-year playing career, Kemar Roach has missed almost one-third of the Tests that his side has played owing to injuries. His 5 foot 7 inches frame just wasn’t delivering, but the bowler has continued to fight hard. In addition to this was the life altering event of 2014.
The car crash was nothing to do with my cricket: Kemar Roach
It was in the year 2014 when Kemar Roach met with a car accident. He was driving his BMW sedan in Bridgetown when he lost control probably due to slippery conditions. The car flipped over several times before coming to a halt. He suffered some minor injuries on his head, but came out largely unscathed.
Kemar Roach’s pace has not been the same ever since that phase in his life. However, he denies that incident has had any impact on his cricketing life.
“The car crash was nothing to do with my cricket. That was just life, everyone has to come through obstacles. It was just about understanding what happened and doing what is right.”
2017 and the comeback
After missing out on various tours and playing sparingly for the West Indies from 2014, his inclusion in the West Indies squad for England in August 2017 was a comeback of sorts for Kemar Roach. He was no more the 93-miles-an-hour guy. But he was still skiddy at 85 miles, swinging it both ways.
Kemar Roach took 11 wickets from 5 innings in that tour. He has been part of the West Indian pace bowling line up in Test matches ever since. This was also the time when the trio of Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder became regular features in the eleven brining back memories of the past for the island team.
With the sharp decline in the quality of bowlers, the pitches in the Carribean had become slower and lower. Kemar Roach's return and the formation of this pace battery gave a sort of changed the situation drastically. It wasn’t surprising that a couple of years later, the board took a decision to start using the Dukes ball in domestic and international cricket matches played in the Carribean islands.
They also transformed the pitches into ones with more pace and bounce. They are still nowhere near the pitch in Kingston Oval, Jamaica, where Holding and company used to terrorise batsmen, but they have enough in them to encourage the fast bowlers. This transformation owes much to the current pace attack led by Kemar Roach.
The changes showed results straightaway. West Indies thrashed a touring England side 2-1 in 2018-2019, which was their first series victory against a top-ranked side since 2012. He took 18 wickets in 3 matches, conceding just 21 runs per wicket. Kemar Roach believes that this was the best performance of his career.
“It was the best I have ever felt; my body was healthy, the ball was coming out perfectly, I was expressing myself. There was no added pressure, just total comfort. We were relentless and it set the tone,” Kemar Roach said.
That tally included a five for four spell from just 27 balls in the first test of the series at Kensington Oval. The period after Kemar Roach’s comeback has been nothing short of exceptional, with the former Worcestershire bowler picking up 79 wickets so far at an average of under 23.
Kemar Roach has also made it to the prestigious 200 Test wickets during the ongoing Test series against England. He now finids himself in the company of West Indian greats like Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Micheal Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Lance Gibbs, Gary Sobers and Wes Hall. He is the first West Indian to achieve this feat since Curtly Ambrose achieved it in 1994.
Reigniting the West Indian Dream
The hope of a West Indian fan for a consistently performing, winning side was fast burning out. The cricket following in the islands had drastically reduced over the years. Youngsters had started to follow basketball leagues over the national cricket team.
But there were still some ardent fans, hoping against hope, dreaming about the legacy. Jason Holder has brought together a team of quality players now and made a team that can potentially beat the best out in the middle. Kemar Roach is his trusted lieutenant leading the pace battery.
Together, they are building up a side which can challenge any team. The side have won a few and lost a few in the last couple of years, but importantly there haven’t been instances where they seemed to have given up.
Back in the islands, that’s what people look for. You may lose, but you got to lose with pride. And they are proud to see Kemar Roach taking over the mantle from the legendary pacemen of the past.
You could see that the emotion in the congratulatory messages given by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh yesterday, when Kemar Roach reached the 200-wicket mark. He has certainly reignited their dreams. These West Indian legends would also be expecting the 32-year-old Barbadian to carry their legacy further and take this group of players towards the oft-forgotten Caribbean glory.Published 27 Jul 2020, 14:32 IST