The biggest series of the year, The Ashes, is set to take place later in 2017. Just when the cricketing World was eagerly looking forward to a fiercely contested Ashes, Australia lost to Bangladesh in Bangladesh and England lost to West Indies, both occurring within a day’s gap.
But things apparently returned to the ordinary when Bangladesh lost to the Aussies in the second Test and Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes ripped apart West Indies for 123 in the series decided at Lord’s.
But one man – Kemar Roach – wasn’t ready to give up the series without a fight. The West Indian had bowled his heart out even when England crushed them in the first Test but found little support from Miguel Cummins and Alzarri Joseph. With Shannon Gabriel returning, Roach found his mojo and reaped rich returns. He picked up four wickets in England’s first innings at Leeds, importantly finding a way to produce unplayable balls against a power packed England top order.
At Lord’s, West Indies were staring down the barrel having been bowled out for 123. They needed a spark of energy to end day 1 which seemed to go from bad to worse. That dose of rejuvenation came from none other than Kemar Roach.
The sensational fast bowler ran in hard, brushed aside Mark Stoneman, and plotted Alastair Cook’s dismissal by coming around the wicket. He landed the ball on middle-stump and seamed the ball away a touch to induce the outside edge. Cook has been vulnerable this series when seamers come around the wicket and move the ball away and Roach executed it to perfection.
He returned on day 2 to move wide off the stumps and jag one back into the left-handed Dawid Malan to effect another dismissal. England were now struggling to hold themselves together against the fiery West Indian.
Kemar Roach is every bit a West Indian fast bowler. A swift run-up and strong action is completed by a near perfect follow through. When Kemar Roach first made an appearance in International cricket it was certain that West Indies had unearthed a gem.
His success against Ricky Ponting with the short ball surprised one and all given that the Australian is a terrific player of the bouncer. He hit Ponting hard on the arm, sending him to the hospital. He was West Indies cricket of the 1980s all over again. The West Indian seemed destined for glory right from then but constant injuries and lack of support saw him fade off before he roared back to form this series.
Before the England series, Roach hadn’t played Test cricket for quite some time and worked on moving the ball both ways.
“I’m looking to make the ball go both ways. I always had it in me, but I need to perfect it even more and I’ve been working hard on that,” he had said after a rain-hit day in Chelmsford during the warm-ups. “Today, it was perfect. The line and length was spot on. That’s where I wanted to be. I want to keep working and building on that.”
A series of poor performances had seen him being dropped but he dished out splendid performances in West Indies’ First-class tournament to finish with 23 wickets at 16.17 for his side, Barbados.
“It’s pretty tough to go there after almost two years off, to catch up with things. Test cricket is the biggest form of cricket, and I’ve been working hard and I want things to be right back here. So I’m going to go there, help the young guys in the team and put some good performances”, he had said before the series.
That he did with utmost perfection. When Johnny Bairstow and Ben Stokes resisted the West Indian with counter-attacking shots and staunch defensive pushes, Roach kept bowling at the stumps, confident that the overhead conditions would do the rest.
He was relentless, tireless and it paid off when Johnny Bairstow missed a prod to be trapped in front by a screamer from Kemar Roach. It wasn’t the first time he had Bairstow fishing. In 44 balls against the England keeper, Roach has dismissed him thrice. Bairstow averages less than seven against the outstanding seamer.
When Gabriel bowled Ben Stokes three overs later, West Indies would have been relieved. But with Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad remaining to bat and a score of 123 on board they could barely afford to breathe. Roach angled one across Moeen Ali, tempting a drive and eking out an edge to fully to complete his five wicket haul.
Roach’s change in strategy over the years is evident for everyone to see. He has moved wider off the crease over the years, changing his angle of attack to compensate for a loss in pace. He has even used the around the wicket ploy to success this series. Ben Stokes was dropped off a peach of a delivery from around the stumps in Headingley and he had Alastair Cook this Test with another corker. Roach deservedly etched his name in the Lord’s Honours Board with his five-for, becoming the eighth West Indian bowler to go on the revered board. This man deserves it all. With the Ashes coming up later this year, Roach has set a template for the Aussie pace bowlers to follow against English batsmen.