The international media boldly carried a headline around three days or so in the past that said the following in regards to the West Indies versus England Test series:
“The West Indies will ask for a quick Antigua pitch so that Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach can win them the Test.”
Legit ask, right?
One thinks, why not?
Why shouldn’t the West Indies be actually allowed a quick pitch?
Well, not only do quick pitches such as what WACA once was, fuel life into a contest that’s often batsman oriented.
But also because the hosts, needless to say, often get the upper hand in deciding the nature of a pitch. Do they not? And when its someone like the West Indies, currently eighth in the Test rankings, one provided happens to be their fan, wouldn’t mind that one bit.
After all, it’s not always that the West Indies win and that too, a Test- right?
Well, essentially, the complaint lodged against the Windies is that they hardly ever win.
On top of it, they don’t seem to be able to win Tests.
How often have you heard, rather felt the above? Perhaps, many a jet black hair has grown pearl white in anticipating a West Indian win right?
But if you were at the Kensington Oval, the scene of Jason Holder’s sides’ most recent Test win, you’d have noticed that it was the same venue where his team had thrashed a familiar looking opponent around 3 years back in time, one it had just made headlines hammering a few days back.
Although, there was a key factor.
Back then, during the West Indies’ 5-wicket win over England, there was no Kemar Roach (hero of the current Wisden Series’ First Test win). ‘
Lil’ Bravo played a fine unbeaten knock, guiding his team to a solid, series-levelling win.
His ally at the other end was Jermaine Blackwood. Jerome Taylor had led England’s downfall, grabbing 6 wickets from the famous Barbados Test win. Shannon Gabriel had clinched crucial wickets, three of them in all, including a 2-for during England’s first inning. Heck, even Marlon Samuels- not West Indies’ most reliable bowler or the one with the cleanest action, as seen in the past- had claimed a wicket.
One man hadn’t played any part in the game.
It was the same man who inspired West Indies’ recent mega triumph at Barbados, one that may not be forgotten for a long time.
Kemar Roach, who had the agony of having missed out on 2015’s Barbados Test due to an injury had been in some form as evidenced by his Antigua performance, during the First Test in that Wisden series.
Back then, in removing Cook, Bell, Buttler, and Broad, Roach broke England’s batting spine.
The fan, who’d seen the tempo of the series opener been set perfectly well by some wham-bamming swing bowling on what’s typically a batting-friendly wicket had to contend with having no Kemar Roach at Barbados.
And it didn’t help either that in the Second Test of that Wisden series, Roach had gone wicketless at Grenada.
Interestingly, against the same opposition, one minus Cook but with a famous quartet (if you like) in Bairstow, Root, Buttler, and Stokes, Kemar Roach was at it again.
In giving Windies an early edge into the 4-match series, something that’s, let’s face it, is as rare an occurrence as February having 29 days, Kemar Roach added to the sparkle of the Bajan sunshine.
His 5 for 17 at the Kensington Oval broke the English back once again, in 2019’s ecstatic early triumph for his West Indies.
This time, Bairstow, Buttler, Stokes, and Ali would fall prey to the pillaging effort of a 30-year-old, who’d send England tripping to 77 all out in the first inning.
Later on, in completing the formality on the part of his team (to win), Kemar Roach wouldn’t even find the trouble to pick up the ball, all thanks to his fellow Bajan, Roston Chase’ 8-for.
But what one saw during that enthralling Barbados Test was a silent trier, a passionate doer attempting what he does the best; going all out, bowling with all his heart out without having to compromise on pace and all the rigours that fast bowlers happen to endure perhaps for being who they are.
And they are, if it must be said, a different species altogether- aren’t they?
A little clue as to why England would be well-advised to take Kemar Roach seriously would point to more than his ability to bring the ball sharply into the right-handers or make the shorter one do the talking.
Almost half a cricketing summer ago, the Bangladesh Cricket team did the mistake of approaching his West Indies lightly on their 2018 tour to the Caribbean.
In the First Test played at Antigua, from July 3-7, Kemar Roach ran into Bangladesh batsmen akin to a mad raging bull that has been unleashed to go all out on anything that appears red.
In making an even lighter version of the term ‘lightwork’ of Bangladesh, the Barbadian medium pacer skittled the tourists to a heart-stopping low of being 43 all out. His own contribution? 5 for 8 off 5 overs, including a maiden and the key wickets of Tamim, Mominul, Mushfiqur, and even, Shakib.
Did you notice it then?
All said and done, Roach, known for his proclivity for appreciating rigour and for holding a sense of the contest will not make life any easier for Joe’s England.
Then, whether the Barbadian, 171 wickets from 51 Tests, including 9 fifers (already) can make life any easier for the visitors to the Caribbean this time around.