Sunday, 11 March 2012 03:30
By Dr. Jerry Simon
I am certainly happy to see the honour and praise that has been lavished on Sir Vivian Richards on the occasion of his 60th birthday. He certainly is deserving of all of it.
For even with a long history and many great players, very few cricketers have been revered like Sir Viv.
When you consider that he is from a country of less than 100,000 people, and a region whose combined population is just a small fraction of the population of most major cricketing nations, it is all the more remarkable. However, I am still somewhat disappointed that we have not honoured or celebrated Andy Roberts more.
Now I hope no one views this article as a competition between Andy and Vivi, because this is the last thing I want to do. Rather, I just hope to bring attention to another of Antigua's cricket legend, especially in an era when we have parades, motorcades, and national awards for some who have done far less or have a much smaller body of work. He is one whose accomplishments far outweigh his celebrity.
When fire rained in Babylon, the first thunderbolts were bowled by Andy Roberts. In that humiliating series in 1975 - 76, when West Indies were beaten 5 - 1 by Australia, it was Roberts who bowled the Windies to their only victory. In that match in Perth, he had 7 for 54 in the second innings. He was the first entity in a formula that eventually made the West Indies cricket team of that era the most dominant sport team of all times.
In another famous Test match in Jamaica in 1983 against India, Viv Richards took West Indies to the brink of an eventual victory with a 66 - run innings he considers his best in Test. But it was Andy Roberts who won the man of the match award for actually making it a match. Even after tea on the final day, the match was heading for a tame draw before Roberts obliterated India's middle order and tail, thus giving the Windies batsmen a chance for glory.
In that match almost spoiled by rain, Roberts had 5 for 39 in the second innings to finish with 9 for 99 in the match.
Then there was an infamous series in 1980 in New Zealand that most West Indians would rather forget. It is the only Test series that West Indies lost between 1976 and 1995. Richards was injured and missed that series, but Andy Roberts had the best "batting" average.
Indian commentators will tell you how Roberts destroyed India on a made-for-spinners pitch in Chennai in 1975. In that match, he wrecked the Indian party, taking 12 for 121. This represents the best figures by a West Indian in a Test match against India.
But like any great sportsman, Roberts is more than just a few isolated special performances. His body of work, shortened by West Indies' at times incomprehensible selection policy and politics, is nothing short of great.
So what is Roberts" record? He became the first Antiguan to play international cricket when he made his Test debut on March 6, 1974, a day before Viv's 22nd birthday. The Hitman, as he was called, proceeded to open the bowling in every Test match he played, except his last, although he played with other great West Indian fast bowlers such as Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Wayne Daniel, and Malcolm Marshall.
Roberts opening the bowling was not just a token. For if opening batsmen survived his spell, they were often so battered and bruised physically and/or mentally that they would not go on for much longer.
In 47 Test matches, Roberts took 202 wickets. This gives him an average of 4.3 wickets per match, which is better than that of Curtly Ambrose and Micheal Holding (two bowlers named on West Indies' All Time Test Team). In those 47 matches, he took more than 10 wickets twice, and five or more wickets in an innings 11 times. This represents a better frequency than Holding or Garner.
Roberts was especially known for his guile and his ability to work out a batsman. Like a ripe mango, he would set you up, then devour you. He was especially known for bowling bouncers at differing speeds with the same action. The first slower one, the batsman might dispatch, the second faster one dispatched the batman (his limb, head, or wicket).
Quite a number of batsmen have suffered fractured limbs, ribs, jaws, egos, or stumps after an encounter with Roberts.
If he was destructive in Test matches, he was tight and miserly in One Day matches. And he was especially so on the biggest stage - the Cricket World Cup. In 16 World Cup matches, he bowled 170.1 overs, taking 26 wickets for only 552 runs. His economy rate of 3.24 runs per over in World Cup cricket is the best ever; better that of other World Cup greats such as Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Muralitharan, or Glen MaGrath.
His bowling average of 21.23 runs per wicket is the sixth best all time in World Cup, and best among all West Indians. As the spearhead of the attack, he contributed greatly to West Indies winning the first two World Cups in 1975 and 79. His highest One Day International score of 37 not out came in a World Cup match.
Many critics would agree that the Kerry Packer World Series Cricket was the toughest cricket ever played. If that is indeed the case, when the going got tough, Roberts got going. For his World Series bowling records are indeed very impressive. Some argue that World Series Cricket stats should be part of players' official Test records. I am also of that view.
In 13 World Series 'Tests,' he took 50 wickets at an average of 24.14, economy rate of 2.6, and a strike rate of 56.68. His number of wickets is second only to that of the legendary Dennis Lillee, and his economy rate was practically at the top with that of Joel Garner at 2.59.
As impressive as his stats may be, they can only tell a part of the Andy Roberts story. He displayed the spirit of a warrior and, as part of the great West Indies team of the 1970s and 80s, brought great pride and pleasure to West Indians and black people all over the world. He has been inducted in the United States Hall of Fame.
But what stands out profoundly in my mind is that, like Sir Viv, he refused to play in then-Apartheid South Africa. He did not betray his race, disgrace his country, or dishonour his legacy for a lucrative payday.
He was a great team player, and Michael Holding attributed much of what he learned about international fast bowling to Roberts. His serious demeanour might have been interpreted as a lack of charisma, but if he was on your side, you asked for no better companion.
He was "fast and deadly" to his opponents, but as boy watching cricket at the old ARG, I anticipated Roberts moving in with a bright red cherry as much as Viv walking out to bat.
Come on Antigua, let us truly honour the Hitman.
Dr Jerry Simon