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Andy Roberts: Overshadowed by an illustrious contemporary namesake

Andy Roberts
New Zealand team sheet for their 1976 India and Pakistan tours Photo Credit: Carter’s

Northern Districts and New Zealand all-rounder Andy    Roberts was born May 6, 1947. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a man who is seldom remembered because his career coincided with the Antiguan legend who was his namesake.

Being namesakes of famous sportspersons has always been a  problem for men who have not reached that level: Andrew  Duncan Glenn Roberts’ career (albeit not an outstanding one) remained perpetually obscured by that of his famous West Indian namesake — Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts. The fact that they were contemporaries did not help, either.

Roberts, a hard-hitting batsman, went on to play 112 First-Class matches (mostly for Northern Districts), scoring 5,865 runs at 34.70 with seven hundreds. Renowned as a partnership-breaker with his accurate medium-pace bowling, Roberts finished with 84 wickets at 30.00 as well. The numbers probably signify that he was competent enough to play First-Class cricket for 16 seasons. He also played for Bay of Plenty in the Hawke Cup.

The international numbers, on the other hand, were rather  mediocre. He played only seven Tests, scoring 254 runs at 23.09; he never really got a long run with the ball, and finished with four wickets at 45.50, though his economy rate of 2.48 was rather impressive. He also played a solitary One-Day International (ODI).

Early days

Born in Te Aroha, Waikato, the 20-year old Roberts made his First-Class debut in a Plunket Shield match against Auckland at Eden Park, scoring two and 25. He had to wait for his maiden First-Class hundred, which came three seasons later against Wellington at Basin Reserve: Roberts top-scored with 120 when nobody else reached fifty.

He started 1975-76 on a high, scoring 104 not out against Auckland at Eden Park when the next-best was 35. After the Indians had set 305 for seven in their tour match at Hamilton and reduced Northern Districts to 72 for four, Roberts rose to the occasion, handling Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and Madan Lal comfortably.

Once again he played a lone hand, scoring 104 not out (35 being the next highest) before John Parker declared the innings closed on 240 for six; chasing 265 for a victory the hosts were bowled out for 123 by Chandra and Prasanna — but Roberts top-scored again with 36. His single-handed defiance, combined with the fact that India had won the first Test at Eden Park, earned Roberts a Test cap in the second Test at Lancaster Park.

Test debut

India scored 255, to which the hosts responded with an emphatic 403 with Roberts scoring 17 before Madan Lal trapped him leg-before. India played out time, finishing on 255 for six; Roberts picked up his first Test wicket when he had Gundappa Viswanath caught-behind.

Retained for the third Test at Basin Reserve, Roberts was snared by Bishan Bedi for a duck, but it did not matter: Richard Hadlee ran through the Indian line-up and finished with match figures of 11 for 58, and the Indians lost by an innings. Surprisingly, Roberts was retained for the combined tour of India and Pakistan at the end of the year.

Mission subcontinent

Roberts played the only ODI of his career in the one-off humdinger at Sialkot: he scored a 24-ball 16, but more importantly, he conceded only 30 off his seven overs, clean-bowling Majid Khan to end a dangerous-looking opening stand. New Zealand won by a single run.

Dropped from the first Test at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore (which Pakistan had won by six wickets), Roberts fought his way to the second Test at Hyderabad back to the side by virtue of a sturdy 72 not out against Punjab at Lyallpur. Unfortunately, Roberts (eight and 33) could not make an impact, and neither could New Zealand: Pakistan won by ten wickets and clinched the series.

Pakistan seemed to be headed for a “brownwash” after they posted 565 for nine (Majid had scored a hundred before lunch on Day One); a 186-run partnership between Warren Lees and Hadlee saved the follow-on, though not before Roberts (39) had put up a resistance of sorts as well.

Set 388 to win or a day to bat out, New Zealand were quickly reduced to 91 for four before Roberts saved the match with 45, adding 47 with Robert Anderson and 60 more with Lees. By the time he was bowled by Sikander Bakht, the match had been as good as saved.

Roberts also played in all three Tests on the India tour. He scored an aggressive 84 in the second Test at Green Park — the only drawn encounter of the series as New Zealand lost 0-2. Clueless against Bedi, Chandra, and Venkat, Roberts reached double-figures just one other occassion in the entire series. He never played another international match.

Winning the Plunket Shield

The next season Roberts routed Central Districts at Napier with five for 30; it remained his only five-for. However, his best year came in 1979-80, when he guided Northern Districts to their second (and first in 17 seasons) Shell Trophy title. The high point came against Central Districts at Gisborne, where he scored 60 and a match-winning 128 not out, where he single-handedly masterminded a 314-run chase: Rod Griffiths scored a mere eight not out in the unbeaten 39-run last wicket stand.

He finished the tournament with 414 runs at 41.40 and eight wickets at 39.50. He also scored unbeaten innings of 54 and 50 in the tour match against the West Indians at Hamilton, but could not break through to the top level. A consolation of sorts came when Roberts was named a New Zealand Cricket Almanac Player of the Year.

Roberts played on till 1983-84, playing his last match against Wellington at Basin Reserve. After Wellington declared boldly on 83 for two, Parker took the cue and declared with a two-run lead. Wellington then set a target of 273, and the score was 41 for two when Roberts (75) joined Parker (110). The two added 169, but once they were parted Steve Maguiness ran through the rest; Northern Districts lost their last eight wickets for 49 runs and lost the match by 13 runs.

Post-retirement

Little is known of Roberts’ final days. He died in Wellington rather abruptly on October 26, 1989. He was only 42 years 173 days. After Ken Wadsworth (29 years 263 days) Roberts was the shortest-lived New Zealand ODI player.

 

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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