Born January 29, 1951, Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts, better known as Andy Roberts, is a former West Indian cricketer and one part of the famous West Indian pace quartet along with Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. Roberts terrorised the batsmen world over with his sheer pace for close to a decade, taking 202 Test and 87 One-Day International (ODI) wickets in the process. A two-time World Cup winner, Roberts was the first Antiguan to play for the West Indies. Post retirement, he has contributed to the development of West Indian cricket and to world cricket in general. On his birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 14 facts from the life of the cricketer, who got the moniker of ‘Silent Assassin’ for his deadpan face and fiery bowling.
1. Early life: Roberts was born to a fisherman’s family as one amongst the 14 children. He grew up in Urlings Village in Antigua, where he never played a cricket match till the age of 16.
2. The break: Roberts took up cricket quite late in life. When he was 18, he got his first big break as he was picked for the Leeward Islands side. Incidentally, he used to work as a salesman for a beverage company ‘Fruity’ back then, besides helping his father haul back his day’s catch.
3. Coaching: This is interesting! For a bowler who got so much success in his life, it is hard to believe that he took coaching for merely six weeks during his entire career. When he started, he had no coach, but was sent to Hampshire in England along with Viv Richards to the Alf Gover’s indoor cricket school at Wandsworth. There he learnt how to get his elbow nearer the ear when he bowled and the value of follow-through.
4. First Antiguan to play for West Indies: Roberts was the first player from Antigua to represent the West Indies team. His inclusion into the team pave the way for other Antiguans, as he was followed by Richards, Eldine Baptiste, Richie Richardson, Winston and Kenny Benjamin, Dave and Sylvester Joseph, Curtly Ambrose, Ridley Jacobs and Gavin Tonge in years to come.
Roberts once shared the anecdote related to his inclusion in the team for the first time. He was playing a First-Class game in Barbados in 1973, when the then West Indian captain Rohan Kanhai told him to stay in Barbados, where the third Test against England would be played, as Keith Boyce was injured. He waited and no one said anything to him, so he returned home. Then a car pulled up and the president of the Antigua Cricket Association, Lester Bird, came out and said, “You are to go to Barbados in the morning.”
5. Two-time World Cup winner: Roberts was a part of the West Indies team that won the first two Prudential World Cups in England in 1975 and 1979.
6. English County: Roberts played for Hampshire and Leicestershire during his career. Interestingly, Hampshire retained him after he overcame a career-threatening injury to take 40 wickets for their Second XI in 1972-73. Had they not kept him back, Roberts would have never returned to English county.
7. Fast and fearsome: There are many instances of Roberts hurting batsmen with his ferocious bowling. Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan once described a ball bowled by him as the ‘fastest and most terrifying he had ever faced.’
8. One bowler, two bouncers: Roberts had two different bouncers in his repertoire; one was the normal one, fast and fiery. The other one was delivered at a slower pace and was often dealt with quite easily by the batsmen. However, he often used the slower bouncer as a trap to fox the batsmen, following it up with the faster bouncer. The batsman would attempt to play this delivery in the same fashion as the first slower bouncer only to be surprised by the extra pace and bounce of the ball, resulting either in their dismissals or injuries.
9. No bunny with the bat: Roberts was no bunny with the bat. During West Indies’ victorious World Cup campaign in 1975, he produced a match-winning last wicket stand of 64 runs with Deryck Murray against Pakistan in the group stage. Chasing 267, West Indies were 9 for 203 when the two got together. Murray was unbeaten 61 while Roberts remained not out on 24. He scored 3 Test fifties, and 7 more at First-Class level.
10. World Series Cricket: Roberts joined Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, thus losing out on two precious years of his Test career, which ended in 1983. Despite his terrific record, his career was relatively short.
11. Almost killed Toohey: In a Test against Australia at Queen’s Park Oval in 1977-78, Roberts almost killed Peter Toohey with his deadly bowling. As a lethal bouncer came his way, Toohey went for a hook, but missed it completely and it struck him on the forehead, just above the bridge of the nose. The batsman fell on the ground and went unconscious. There were desperate scenes on the ground, with gestures being made towards the pavilion. The only thing that did not change, however, was Roberts’ deadpan face.
12. Post-retirement: After retiring from the game, Roberts served as the coach of the West Indies team in the 1990s and an administrator in his home island. He was also responsible for the preparation of the pitches in Antigua. In later years, he worked with medium-pace bowlers of Bangladesh and helped Irfan Pathan when India toured West Indies in 2006.
He was appointed on the selection panel of the West Indies Cricket Board in 2006, but was surprisingly sacked in 2008 along with three other illustrious names — Ian Bishop, Desmond Haynes and Courtney Walsh. In 2008, he became one of the 12 West Indian former greats who promoted Stanford Twenty20 as the ‘Stanford Legends’.
13. Duel with Crowe: In June 1984, after his West Indies career was over, Roberts was playing a County match for Leicestershire against Somerset. He was up against an immensely talented youngster called Martin Crowe, who was in tremendous form, having scored 125 against Middlesex, 113 and 54 against Lancashire and 152* against Warwickshire in his previous three outings. A fired-up Roberts kept bowling bouncers and short stuff aimed at Crowe’s body, but the youngster continued to play with nonchalance.
At one instance, he hit Roberts for six over his head. A fuming Roberts overstepped twice in succession, aiming Crowe’s body, but the young New Zealander survived, and prospered in the middle. He eventually got out for 190, while Roberts’ figures read none for 70 in 14 overs.
14. Laurels: Roberts was at his best during the West Indies’ tour of India in 1975, when he was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year. In October 2005, he was inducted into the United States Cricket Hall of Fame, becoming the second Antiguan to be thus recognised after Richards. In 2007, he was honoured in the Independence Day parade at the Antigua Recreation Ground with the Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit — the second-highest civilian decoration of Antigua and Barbuda. Two years later, he was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame and in 2014, Roberts was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Nation (KCN) by the Antigua and Barbuda government.
(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)