WHO IS ANDY ROBERTS?
Do we really know anything about Sir Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts? We know he is the first Antiguan to play for West Indies. We know he never spoke a word. We know he showed less emotion on his face than Arun Pāndian in iṇainda kaigaḷ*. Every story about Andy Roberts by any player who has played with or against him is the same story: Andy had two bouncers. One with less speed and a second vicious one. The first one would lull batsmen into a false sense of security but the second would lift from length and simply go for the jugular. What else do we know about Andy Roberts?
We know a lot about his teammates, especially his fellow bowlers than The Man Who Never Spoke.
Michael Holding. We probably know everything about him. His brilliant bowling on an Oval featherbed. His over-zealous peppering of 45 year old Brian Close at Old Trafford. His devastating spell on a WACA flyer. His kicking of the stumps. Probably the most famous of them all: that scary over to Boycott.
Colin Croft. His spell of 8/29 in just his 2nd test, still the best figures by a Windies quickie. His fierce reputation that he'd bounce his own grandmother if she was batting. His running into the Kiwi umpire. His getting thrown off a Whites-only coach during a Rebel tour to South Africa.
Joel Garner. Just like Andy, he hardly spoke but he's still remembered...better. His gigantic 6'8" frame. His deadly spell that won a second World Cup in two attempts. His toe-crushing yorkers. His sub-21 bowling average.
Malcolm Marshall. Seriously? Do we even have to go through why the Malcolm Marshall was famous?
We know that, clearly, Andy Roberts gets easily overshadowed by his teammates. Only Croft's 125 test wickets are less than Andy Roberts' 202. His average of 25.61 is highest. At 6'2" he's the runt of the litter (Holding 6'4", Garner 6'8", Croft 6'6") so to speak. Malcolm Marshall (5'10") was shorter but only in stature. He was larger than life in many other ways. One of my favourite features in Cricinfo is On This Day. On This Day, on Ian Bishop's birthday, used to incorrectly say that Bishop's 100 wickets in 21 tests were a West Indian record.
It was Yours Truly's personal intervention on Twitter that ensured the correction of this error. Do you know who holds the record? You guessed it! Andy Roberts! Jointly with Alf Valentine: 19 tests. To forget any spinner is understandable. Alf Valentine was a West Indies spinner. No way he's going to be remembered. But to forget a West Indies fast bowler? That is the degree to which Andy Roberts is forgotten!
During the span of his career (1974-83), West Indian bowlers took 5 7-fers in tests. One of them was by Lance Gibbs. Spinners are un-sexy. He is out of syllabus here. Four were by fast bowlers. Two of them were 8-fers. Both of them unforgettable. Colin Croft's aforementioned 8/29 against Pakistan and Whispering Death's indelible 8/92 on possibly the flattest ever Oval wicket. Who took the remaining two 7-fers? Come on. You know how this works. Yup. Both were by Andy Roberts.
The 2nd one on came on a WACA flyer. When Ian Chappell was 8th man out early on day 2, he would have been a proud man. His brilliant 156 held the innings together and helped Australia to 329. A lot of runs for skull crushers: Lillee & Thommo. Little did he know that his innings would be forgotten by lunch. Roy Fredericks hooked the 2nd ball he faced for a 6 and his astonishing assault took WI to 130/1 in 14 (8 ball) overs. He was on 81*. His 50 came off 33 balls. The 100 off 71 with 18 fours and that 2nd ball 6. He "slowed down" to 169 off 145 balls with 27 4s & 1 6. 114 runs in boundaries.
A little later, the skipper walked in at 297/4. Inspired by his opener's most brutal of batteries, Clive Lloyd blitzed a slightly less manic but equally breathless 149 in just 186 balls. 98 of the runs came in the 1st session of day 3. The innings was studded with 22 4s and 1 6. Against an attack that read Lillee, Thomson, Gilmour, Walker, Mallett. Lillee/Thommo's combined figures read 37-0-251-5. Leading by 256 runs, Roberts went to town on a deflated Aussie team picking up 7/54. West Indies won by an innings to level the series 1-1. Over the years, with a flood in ABC studios destroying footage of the match, Fredericks' innings has acquired a mythical status. Chappell, Lloyd & Roberts' incandescent performances have become mere footnotes.
The 1st 7-fer came in Chepauk. Andy was purportedly the youngest of his 15 siblings. Apparently, the Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd™ quipped "Machi, if the 15th child is this big, how big will the eldest one be?". But other than Andy Roberts himself, it's unlikely anyone would remember this match for his 12 wickets. Bedi, Prasanna & Chandra took 18 of the 20 wickets to spin India to a series levelling victory in the 4th test of the series. From 0-2 down no less. But this clearly was Gundappa Ranganath Viswanath's match. His 97* being the most celebrated 50 of all time. One of only 2 sub-100 innings that made the Wisden 100 list at the turn of the century. Overshadowed by friggin' 50! Can you believe that!? It is one thing to be eclipsed by the most audacious innings in cricket history but to be forgotten after 12 wickets just because of a puny 50? Our man from Urlings just can't catch a break, can he?
Andy Roberts himself is somewhat at fault for becoming a forgotten man. His first 19 tests produced 102 wickets at 21.42. He also had a sub-50 strike rate. Some stunning numbers that. But it took him 28 tests to procure his 2nd set of 100 wickets. It came at a (relatively) high price of 29.89 runs per wicket and a strike rate of 63.2. As Holding/Garner/Marshall established themselves, Roberts faded away. It is a little sad that Andy Roberts has been overshadowed by his more illustrious teammates when in almost every interview Michael Holding says it was Roberts who taught him everything about fast bowling. Sunil Gavaskar has always held Andy Roberts in high regard. The master was eventually surpassed by his pupils. Would they have been as good without Roberts teaching them? We'll probably never know.
At least in the last year of his career he set up a famous win over India in Kingston. A rain affected match was heading towards a draw with India at 168/6 (165 runs ahead) at tea on the final day. After resumption, Roberts blitzed the Indian tail with 4 wickets in 4 overs and West Indies needed 172 to win in 26 overs. In a microcosm of his career, his blitz with the ball was overshadowed (how many more times will I use this word?) by Viv Richards' blitz with the bat: 61 off 36, 5 4s, 4 6s. At least Roberts won Man of the Match.
Plus, he'll always have Edgbaston!
*-Arun Pāndian is a Tamizh action star who's very famous for being an actor who's incapable of any kind of expression. This was immortalized by Crank's Corner Balakumar ji in a tweet.