They were fast. They were deadly. They were Roberts, Holding, Marshall and Garner…..
Pace bowling and West Indies are akin to duck to water. They have had a reputation for unearthing terrifying pace bowlers. Over the years, West Indies have given the world some of the best pacers, who have wreaked havoc with their mind-boggling pace and skills. The likes of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and many more rendered bowling a joy to behold. It is often said, in cricket very few things are as mesmerising as watching a fast bowler put in the hard yards and make the batting line-up look like sitting ducks.
West Indies bowlers, especially of the 1970s and 1980s, struck fear in the heart of batsmen with some guile. They were intimidating and their presence was enough to push the batsmen on the backfoot at the crease. They have a plethora of fine world-class bowlers, which makes it difficult to choose few to pen down a piece upon. In this article, let’s talk about the four jewels of West Indies cricket, who have done a commendable job for the side throughout their career.
With 202 wickets in his basket from 47 Tests at a staggering average of 25.61, Andy Roberts was a force to be reckoned. Widely reckoned for his deadly bouncers, Roberts set the stage on fire with his extraordinary skill set and mind. He is also widely acknowledged for having two types of bouncers; one was a quick one and the other was a really quick one. Roberts only took two and a half years to reach the 100 Test wickets milestone, which was the quickest back then.
Roberts enjoyed a fruitful run in mid 70s and his best Test outing came against Australia at Perth in 1975. He ran through the Australian batting line-up in the second innings, picking seven wickets for 54 runs, which is also his best figures in an innings. Roberts also played 56 ODIs for West Indies, where he scalped 87 wickets at 20.35.
Roberts was also the first Antiguan to play Test cricket. He debuted at the age of 23 against England in Bridgetown. After his cricket playing days were over, Roberts took the job of an administrator to keep an eye on the preparation of the pitches.
Roberts was part of the West Indies team that emerged victorious in the first two Prudential World Cups in 1975 and 1979. Throughout his career, Roberts has hurt many batsmen across the globe with his fiery bowling. Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan was once at the receiving end, regarding a ball bowled to him he said, “fastest and most terrifying he had ever faced.” Roberts almost killed Peter Toohey with a lethal bouncer in a Test against Australia at Queen’s Park Oval in 1977-78.
One of the legends of the game, Michael Holding is easily one of the quickest bowlers of his era. He was also known as ‘whispering death’ for his ability to take wickets at will. Apart from his prowess with the ball, Holding was also handy when it came to batting. He has six Test fifties from 76 innings with the highest score of 73.
Holding scalped 249 wickets in 60 tests at 23.68 along with 13 fifers. His best performance came at The Oval in 1976, where he destroyed England with 14 wickets for 149 runs. He was quite effective in ODIs as well, where he picked 142 wickets in 102 games at 21.36. Although he never took ODI cricket very seriously, but did well to have 142 wickets under his belt.
Holding’s spell in 1979 World Cup final was crucial, his figures of 2 for 16 from 8 overs played a key role in his side’s victory. Holding’s most memorable moment in ODIs came in 1984 as a non-striker. Viv Richards was merciless in his assault and scored 189 while Holding remained unbeaten on 12 at the other end. The duo stitched an unbeaten stand of 106 for the last wicket.
Holding is also widely known for that one over to Geoff Boycott in 1981 in Bridgetown. It is also considered to be the greatest over in Test cricket, as each delivery got quicker and Boycott being cleaned up off the final one. He was also a member of the ICC Cricket Committee till 2008 and also shares his knowledge as a commentator these days.
Malcolm Marshall has some excellent numbers under his belt. He was not lanky in stature, quite short for a fast bowler, but was really quick. His easy action also helped him to develop some intimidating pace. He had the rare ability to swing the ball both ways and possessed a lethal bouncer in his artillery. He played 81 Tests for West Indies, picking 376 wickets at 20.94, which was remarkable. He did well in ODIs as well, chipping 157 wickets in 136 games at 26.96. Marshall did garner some useful runs with the bat. He scored 10 fifties in Tests and has 1810 runs at 18.85 in his kitty.
Marshall debuted for West Indies in 1978, but struggled to cement his spot for the next few years. He bowled extremely well in the 1983 tour of India, where the pitches were not of immense help for the seamers. He scalped 33 wickets at a staggering average of 18.81.
Marshall was widely remembered for his extraordinary performance against England in 1984. He overcame pain and batted with one-hand to let Larry Gomes reach the 100-run mark. Marshall broke his left thumb while fielding. Then, with the ball, he ran through the English line-up to pick seven wickets for 53.
His best performance in Test cricket came in 1988 at Old Trafford, where he adjusted to the conditions incredibly to pick 7 for 22. He got the ball to swing on a surface that was assisting the spinners. Marshall made his Test debut against India in 1976 in Bangalore. The whole cricket fraternity mourned when Marshall died due to cancer at an age of 41.
Joel Garner has been the reason behind nightmares for many batsmen for a very long time. With a lanky stature, Garner was a threat at the crease for any batsmen. He possessed a great Yorker, which he put into use quite effectively. Garner embraced international cricket on a high, picking six wickets and 43 runs with the bat against Pakistan at Bridgetown. Garner was unstoppable in the 1979 final at Lord’s, where he recorded his best ODI figures of 5 for 38 against England.
In 58 Tests, Garner picked 259 wickets at an amazing average of 20.97 whereas in ODIs, he had 146 wickets from 98 outings. Garner was also widely reckoned as ‘Big Bird’ and was one of the most formidable bowlers of his era. He made good use of his height in generating that extra pinch of bounce and was dead right with his toe-crushing Yorkers.
Garner along with Colin Croft, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts formed a daunting set of bowlers, which was no less than a nightmare for the batsmen. Garner was also the tallest international cricketer standing at 6’8” till Pakistan’s Mohammad Irfan (7’1”) made his international debut. Garner may have impressive numbers under his belt in Test cricket, but never managed to get a 10-wicket haul.