Graham Roope: England’s finest slip fielder and their lucky charm

Graham Roope © Getty Images

Graham Roope was born on July 12, 1946. He played for England and Surrey and was widely thought to be one of the best slip catchers of his generation. Shrikant Shankar looks back at the career and life of the man with the corkscrew-curled hair, who was considered to be a lucky charm for England.
Graham Richard James Roope was born in the town of Fareham in the south east of Hampshire County. He spent five years at St John’s School in Porthcawl, Wales. He then graduated from Bradfield College in Berkshire. By the age of 17, he was representing Berkshire in cricket. A year later in 1964 he made his debut for English County side Surrey.

Roope was a right-handed batsman and batted in the middle-order for most of his career. However, he began as an all-rounder, who could bowl medium pace but bowled less often later in his career. He was undoubtedly remembered for his catching, especially in the slips. His prowess in the slip cordon was attributed to skills as a goalkeeper in football. Roope played for various Non-League clubs as a shot-stopper. Some of the clubs he played for were Kingstonian, Woking, Margate, Corinthian Casuals. The most fancied club he played for was Wimbledon FC. Colin Bateman, a cricket correspondent, once said, “Graham Roope was one of those cricketers who thrilled spectators and frustrated selectors. Tall and stylish, there was a touch of class about his middle-order batting. He could make the ball swing at medium pace and his slip fielding was what you would expect from a Corinthian Casuals goalkeeper.”

Although he got a lot of runs for Surrey, he was not very prolific for England. He made his England debut only in 1973, nearly nine years after his debut in county cricket. But it was in the 1971 season that he made a name for himself as a batsman. His 1,641 runs came at an average of 44.35 helped Surrey win the county championship that season. He also took 59 catches, furthering his reputation as having a safe pair of hands. Geoff Arnold, his teammate at Surrey and England, told Cricinfo, “As a slip fielder he was outstanding, I’d put him in the top half a dozen I’ve ever seen. He held some stunning catches off me for Surrey and England. In fact, if he ever did drop a catch it was often the easier ones that were coming straight at him. He had great reflexes as a goalkeeper and this showed when he was at slip.”

His debut for England was against an Indian side led by Ajit Wadekar in the fourth Test in Kanpur on January 25, 1973. He opened the batting on that occasion, scoring 11 in England’s only innings of the match, which ended in a draw. Roope got his first catch in Test cricket in India’s second innings as he caught Chetan Chauhan off Geoff Arnold’s bowling. He then played in the fifth and final match at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay and scored a mere 10. The match ended in another draw and the England lost the series 2-1. He then toured with the England side to Pakistan. He played the first two Tests of the three-match series, which ended on level pegging. Slowly he began dropping down the line-up for England and settled in the middle-order.

He was selected for the home series against New Zealand in June 1973. It took him six matches to notch up his first half-century in the second Test at Lord’s. His innings of 56 in the first innings and 51 in the second innings helped England maintain a 1-0 series lead and then go on to win the series 2-0 later on. He played his first Test at his beloved — The Oval — ground against the mighty West Indies, who had the likes of Clive Lloyd, Garry Sobers, Lance Gibbs and led by Rohan Kanhai. Roope failed with the bat and West Indies won the match by 158 runs. This would turn out to be the first of only two Tests England lost when Roope played.

That proved to be his last Test for more than two years. Many believed that the only reason he was picked in the England team was due to his exceptional catching. His form for Surrey continued in those years. He was a part of the Surrey side that won the Benson & Hedges Cup [one-day tournament] in 1974. He was later recalled to the England side for the home Ashes series in 1975. He played in the fourth Test at The Oval in August-September. He got a duck in the first innings, but his 77 against the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker helped England save the Test.

Roope played a lot of his finest innings when England had their backs against the wall. In May 1976 he played for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) against the touring West Indies at Lord’s. He was roughed up by the Whispering Death — Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. He was struck in the head by a bouncer as well. That was enough for him to lose his place in the English side when the series started. He then regained his place in the England squad again almost two years later. He toured with the side to Pakistan in the 1977-78 season. His 56 [first innings] and a sedate unbeaten 33 [second innings] in Karachi in January, 1978 helped England to draw the Test after they were in a sticky situation.

Graham Roope: England’s finest slip fielder and their lucky charm

Graham Roope was struck on the head playing for MCC against West Indies in 1976 © Getty Images

Roope toured New Zealand in February and March, 1978. England lost the first Test at Wellington. This was the second and last time England lost a Test when Roope played for them. His Test sojourn ended later that year. His last catch came in his third to last Test against Pakistan at Lord’s, when he caught Sikander Bakht off Ian Botham’s bowling. His last Test came against New Zealand — again at The Oval. Roope was unbeaten on 10 when England won the match and took a 1-0 series lead. In all, Roope played 21 Tests for England and scored 860 runs with an average of 30.71. He scored seven half-centuries, but could not find the three-figure mark. He also played eight One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for England from 1973 to 1978.

Roope was famous for being the non-striker when Geoff Boycott got his 100th hundred against Australia in the fourth Ashes Test in 1977. Boycott hit a straight drive off Greg Chappell that whisked past Roope at the other end. He had to take evasive action as the ball sped to the boundary. Roope jokingly said, “I dread to think what Boycs would have said if the ball had hit me and he’d been out next ball.”

He was also famous for being at the non-striker’s end when John Edrich also reached his 100th century. The match was between Surrey and Derbyshire. Though, there is a little confusion as record books say Geoff Howarth was Edrich’s partner. It is believed that Roope was running for Howarth at the time Edrich scored his century.

Roope was always the jovial character in any dressing room. He also had a habit of talking to the opposition fast bowler. Arnold said, “I once saw him doing it with Andy Roberts. He would try to chat to the bowlers and maybe hope to gain a few secrets about the next ball. I suppose you could say it was a bit of good-natured gamesmanship.”

Roope was also regarded to be a very good judge of the weather. He played on for Surrey till 1982. He played his last First-Class match in 1986. He scored a total of 19,116 runs with an average of 36.90. He also notched up 26 centuries and his highest score was 171. He took 602 catches as well. He then played for Berkshire again for a little while before retiring completely in 1988. In his later years he became a coach and a cricket commentator for BBC Radio.

Roope died of a sudden heart attack on November 26, 2006 in St George’s, Grenada while on a charity tour. He married three times and had a son and two daughters. He will be remembered as a cricketer who probably did not make it big in international cricket, despite his talent and achievements in county cricket. He will also be remembered for his catches and being at the non-striker’s end for historic personal milestones and for being a lucky charm for England.

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)