Messrs. Roach, Gabriel, Holder and Joseph do invoke memories of the great West Indian pace bowling quartets of the 1980s. But what do we do about the missing Greenidge, Haynes, Richards and Lloyd?
It does take a while to grow into great names. Even someone like Michael Holding had to go through the days of being taken to the cleaners in Australia at the beginning of his career … yes, he also broke down crying … before he started gliding in and delivering the deathly blows to batsman after batsman, with just about as much noise as a whisper.
Messrs Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder are well on their way. Still some distance from becoming as lethal as Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Holding … but the foundations are definitely there, and some assiduous construction has indeed taken place.
It may make one raise one’s eyebrows, but Roach has gone past Ian Bishop and is within striking distance of Wes Hall, at an average that is not too inferior to either. Soon, he may well pass Roberts, at a comparable average. And given that he has bowled at what most feel are more batting-friendly times, that is quite an achievement.
At the time of writing, Gabriel has as many wickets as Colin Croft, at a higher but decent average. Jason Holder is also a striking distance away from 100 wickets, and averaged a ridiculous 12 with the ball the previous year. Add to that, he is the captain and can strike double hundreds in Test cricket.
Alzarri Joseph perhaps still has yards to cover, but the signs and symptoms are good.
West Indian pace, all four of them, blowing England away innings after innings is a sight to behold, especially if one has grown up in the 1980s when that sort of thing was the norm. Indeed, when Sam Curran was dismissed in the first England innings at Barbados, shaken by the bounce, the arm coming up to protect the face periscope-style, one could not but help basking in fond (or terrified) memories of the days when the Mike Gattings would get specially packaged perfume balls express-delivered to their nostrils. By four relentless pacemen, one after the other, without the scope of a breather.
Yet, when those men of the yesteryears would steam into bowl, they would do so blissful in the knowledge that the task of putting runs on the board was in secure hands. They were great bowlers, but they had the platform prepared for them by supreme batsmen as well.
And what batsmen they were! Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes would open the proceedings. As this unparalleled opening duo made their way to the ground, there would be Viv Richards sitting with his pads on, maroon cap jauntily set on his head, the jaw arrogantly working on the chewing gum.
Well, he generally padded up early, but preferred to walk in fourth. At No 3, depending on the year, it could be Alvin Kallicharran, Larry Gomes or, later, Richie Richardson. If one is prone to look at Gomes as a misfit in this great line-up, one can do well to remember the two back to back series against England and Australia in 1984 and 1984-85, when he plundered 851 runs in 10 Tests with four hundreds, at a 70-plus average.
When the bowlers had worked through this lot, there would be the hulking form of Clive Lloyd making his way onto the pitch. There was just no respite. More so, if you remember that the wicketkeeping gloves were donned by Jeff Dujon. In front of the stumps, at least at the beginning of his career, he did promise to become one of the finest batsmen in this magnificent line-up.
With such treasures in batting and bowling, the Caribbean cricketers could afford to spare a spot for a specialist fielder. Sometimes they went in with two of that sort, disguising one as a batsman and the other as a spinner.
Gus Logie, apart from the many, many runs saved on the field, could be a stubborn batsman as well. And Roger Harper was a freak in the field, in any position. Besides, he could give the ball a whack. And what many don’t quite realise is that his off-breaks, sparsely used, got him wickets at 28.06.
You reflect on that side and realise why they dominated the cricket world as they did.
Yes, the current crop of brilliant bowlers do make eyes rheumy and souls nostalgic. But the great West Indian side of the 1980s was more than just the four fast bowlers sending down relentless thunderbolts. They were a complete side.
The Roaches, Gabriels, Holders, Josephs are on their way. But it will take the Hetmyers, Braithwaites, Campbells and Hopes some work to manage a fraction of what the long line of great batsmen did for West Indies.