March 20, 1994 was the last time a West Indies fast bowler reached the milestone of 200 Test wickets. Kemar Roach was five then, when Curtly Ambrose bowled Michael Atherton in Georgetown in the second Test of that 1994 series.
Roach turned 32 last week. This month he could become only the ninth West Indies fast bowler to get to 200 Test wickets.
Former West Indies bowling great Andy Roberts, currently eighth on that list, reckons Roach is currently the best fast bowler against left-handers in Test cricket. Of Roach's 193 wickets so far, 79, or nearly 41%, have been of players batting in the top three; that figure is the third highest among active bowlers.
In this interview, Roach talks about his journey - from bowling at 150-plus kph to mellowing down to fast-medium, which he says has been the best phase of his career.
Back home in Barbados, you tweeted about how impatient you were getting during the pandemic. To the point where you said you were willing to pay fines for people to deliver you food at home.
You are home all day, so there is a lot of cooking involved. It was a little frustrating. We all got to eat, so you miss on your cheat days to get fast food and stuff. It was pretty tough being at home, having to cook every day.
What was the first thing you ordered once the lockdown was over?
KFC (chuckles). They say it is not good for you, but I needed it, man. I really needed it.
"That's what I have been trying to do: bowl close to off stump or middle stump, bowl to your fields and work the ball from left to right as much as you can"
What was the one cricketing sound you missed most during the lockdown - stumps being hit, ball thudding into pads, taking the outside edge… ?
I will have to say [ball] taking the edge. And definitely the cheering from the crowd. That is something we are going to miss for a while as well - someone chanting your name in your stands and stuff. It is going to be tough when the series starts and not having the crowds around.
Speaking of crowds, against England in 2019, on your home ground, there were plenty of people dancing in the aisles when you took that five-for in one spell in the first innings.
It was a fantastic experience. Obviously I love playing at home. Being a home boy you have some fans, you have some family, chanting your name and cheering you on. We won that Test match as well. That's probably one of the best Test matches I've played in my whole career.
How long did it take for you to decide to come to England?
The health issues over here [England] and all over the world as well - it took a little bit discussion, little bit of thought. But the West Indies cricket board and the ECB, they assured us that we'll be safe. I trusted the boards, so I came over. I wanted to defend the [Wisden] Trophy as well. It was a pretty tough decision, but all in all I was pretty confident with all the information that was passed over to me and I was pretty sure I would be safe when I got over to England.
You're on the verge of 200 Test wickets. How proud are you of being on the cusp of leaping into the bracket of bowling greats?
It is a great honour. We have a fantastic history of fast bowlers in the West Indies, going back to Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts and those guys. It is a really good feeling to get in the bracket with those greats. I would like to play as long as I can, move higher up that ladder to be one of the top fast bowlers for the West Indies.
What is the joy of fast bowling to you?
Taking wickets. That's me. I always like to celebrate, be in the huddle with the guys. And the good feeling of winning a Test match for the team as well. Being a part of it. That's probably one of the biggest joys I have as a cricketer.
And as a fast bowler?
In my younger days when I was bowling much quicker, yeah, short bowling and seeing the fear in batsman's eyes, that brought a little bit joy as well to me.
Was there a fast bowler you enjoyed watching growing up?
I am a great fan of Corey Collymore. Went to the same school. We're both from the north of the island [Barbados]. We communicated really well. From a young age, he took me on board, he showed me a lot about bowling. We have a lot of conversations. Growing up, he was my idol. I always wanted to emulate what he did for the West Indies, and in England and Australia as well, where he played some cricket in the leagues. He was definitely one of the guys, growing up, I wanted to be like.
Who do you enjoy watching now?
James Anderson. I'm a huge fan of James Anderson. His skill level is so high. His consistency is amazing. And the way he has played for so long, to keep himself so fit, it is pretty amazing what all he has done for England and for cricket all over the world and for fast bowling. I watch his videos a lot. I would love to emulate him some day.
What is it about him?
His art: being able to move the ball both ways, and he is consistent with lengths and lines. We all know fast bowling is very hard. It is very tough on the body and he has done a fantastic of job of playing over 150 Test matches. For me, it is something you want to emulate. Hopefully I can get close to some of his achievements.
Have you ever had a chat on fast bowling with Anderson?
Not really. I had a short conversation with him in the Caribbean after the series [in 2019]. Very short - he is not really an approachable guy. But you admire him, listen to his interviews, you watch his videos and his highlights. You just try to understand what he tries to do with the ball and how he gets batsmen out.
"I am very happy where my game is right now. I am not focusing on bowling fast again"
So would you like to meet him before you head back home if there's an opportunity?
Oh, definitely. Have a long conversation with him. I am sure he has a lot of knowledge to pass on, and anything he tells me will make me better.
Let us talk about your car crash in 2014. How long did it take for you to recover completely?
The mental part of it took me quite a while. I didn't drive for two-three months. It was a very close call for me. An eye-opener as well. Physically it wasn't too bad. Luckily there were no major injuries, but the mental part of it was pretty tough. It took me about a year to really get over it. I am grateful that things worked out for me and I am healthy and still playing cricket for the West Indies.
When you say mental, was it the fear of something?
Yeah, fear of driving. Fear of fast driving. Fear of anyone driving me as well, I guess. Even in a taxi. I was a little bit skeptical about how I was being driven.
Did you like to drive fast?
As a young guy, being a fast bowler, I was accustomed to things going fast. I like cars. I am a huge fan of cars. Speed was my adrenaline. It was one of my favourite things to do. Luckily I have got over that phase.
How fast were you going when you crashed?
Not too fast. I am guessing about 80mph.
Something like what you bowl now?
Ahem, yeah, pretty much (laughs).
Were there any people in particular who helped you regain confidence?
Corey Collymore was there by me through the accident, after and everything. Also Vasbert Drakes, he played a fantastic part, helped me get back to a stage in my bowling where I was confident. I also had a lot of conversations with my past coaches, including my school coach, Peter Vaughan. I had a very good support system and that's why I am back to being a pretty good bowler.
I had lost some pace. I relied on pace when I was younger, but after the pace went a bit, I had to develop some more skill and be more consistent.
Since 2017, when your purple patch began, you seem to have primarily attacked the off stump and made the batsmen play while not allowing them to leave the ball with confidence. How much work did it take for you to become consistent with that line of attack?
Me being the new-ball bowler, the aim is always to make the batsman play as much as possible. My line of attack is coming in to the off stump. I bowl a little wider of the crease, so with my angle, I've been told it is pretty tough to pick up the line. And I move the ball both ways, so it has been tough for batsmen to get on top of me.
Before 2017 was your line not consistent?
I was a little bit low on confidence. These things happen. All players go through a little bad patch. I was going through a pretty tough time.
"I lost some pace, so I had to do something with the ball, because if you are not bowling those high [speed] numbers then it is going to be easy for the batsmen to get on top of you"
Is it accurate to say that you bowl a little fuller and you swing the ball more since your comeback?
Yeah, as I said, I lost some pace, so I had to do something with the ball, because if you are not bowling those high [speed] numbers then it is going to be easy for the batsmen to get on top of you. I worked on my wrist position, my grip, the way I land at the crease, my balance, my release point - in order to get the ball to move some more. I don't think I've mastered it yet, but it took a very long time for me to get to the stage where I am now. I am still willing to learn. I think I still have a couple of years in me to go forward and help West Indies cricket and help the youngsters to improve their game.
Andy Roberts says a fast bowler should always aim to pitch an inch from the [line of the off] stump, not five-six inches outside. Do you agree?
It is a good assessment. By doing that, you make the batsman play as much as possible. You don't want to be too wide. It is very tough on bowlers now to get on top of a batsman, the pitches are very good all over the world. So you have got to make the ball count for you. Whenever the ball is doing something, you have to put the ball in the right areas and make the batsman play as much as possible. That's what I have been trying to do: bowl close to off stump or middle stump, bowl to your fields and work the ball from left to right as much as you can.
You have nine five-fors in Tests. Which of those spells did you enjoy most?
It will have to be the Barbados spell against England at home. I was in fantastic rhythm. To dismiss England was fantastic. For 77, I think it was. The whole bowling group did a fantastic job. That was probably my best spell of bowling in my career that I can recall. I really enjoyed that spell - I was in total control and everything worked to what was planned.
You almost had a hat-trick against India last year.
It was the second innings. India were in control of the game, so it was all about us going as a bowling team and trying our best to dismiss them for as low as possible and give ourselves a chance to come back into the game. We started really well. We were very tight up top, me, Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel.
I got [KL] Rahul out with a pretty good ball on off stump - he edged it to the slip. Then [Virat] Kohli walked out. We know how important it is to get Kohli out. So I just told myself I will bowl the same ball again and we know his weakness is just on top of off stump. And he nicked it.
I wasn't really thinking about the hat-trick. I run in to bowl, I am like, "Just try to repeat the same delivery." [Ajinkya] Rahane got an inside edge, ball just missed the off stump. I was just unlucky. But I am still proud of the way I delivered.
Do you sense discomfort in a batsman when they face you?
I guess it is how the batsman approaches you. Sometimes you know when a guy doesn't really want to bat you, he tends to shy away from you, tries to get to the non-striker's end. So these sort of things [let you] know when you are on top of someone. For me, sometimes you can tell, sometimes you can't. The batsmen, they try not to let you know that you are troubling them.
Does it help having Jason Holder, a fast bowler, as your captain?
He understands bowling as well. Jason has done a fantastic job for the West Indies when it comes to bowling and cricket as a whole - No. 1 allrounder in the world. I have a lot of conversations with him. Coming from the same country, he has seen a lot of me playing cricket for West Indies, and in Barbados and regional cricket. He understands my bowling and my field settings. So having Jason as a fast-bowling captain is pretty big for us.
ALSO READ: Wearied Roach still capable of finding the magic (2017)
Shannon Gabriel is a vital part of the West Indies fast-bowling contingent. What do you like about him and how has he helped you in your bowling?
Shannon is the aggressor in the team. He has great work ethic, always willing to learn, always willing to communicate. He has done fantastically for West Indies in the last couple of years. He is a bit stand-offish sometimes. That's the type of person he is. He is a very quiet individual. But he is also always the one who makes jokes in the team. He brings a lot of energy as well.
In 2009 in Perth you hit Ricky Ponting and he retired hurt. Remember that day?
Yeah (smiles). It was pretty good feeling. It was a Test match we were looking to win. We lost the first Test, in Brisbane. We came back and drew the second Test, in Adelaide. We were trying to draw the series and we were in a good position too. Chris Gayle was the captain then and he was like, "Just let him have it." Unlucky for [Ponting] he ducked into one and it hit his elbow, but we all know how strong Ponting was: he continued to bat until he couldn't take it anymore. And then he went off and then came back on to bat [low down the order in the second innings]. Luckily it didn't do any more damage to him.
"We were trying to draw the series and we were in a good position too. Chris Gayle was the captain then and he was like, "Just let him have it." On getting Ricky Ponting to retire hurt in 2009
You were young and running on adrenaline then. Now you have come down to the mid-130s kph. Have you come to terms with that?
Honestly, you would like to bowl 150 again, but I am getting older. My body isn't the same as it was at 21 or 22. A lot of injuries have set me back as well. It is just about evolving. I am bowling much better now than when I was bowling 145-150. I understand bowling a lot better. It is about learning and adapting to situations and conditions and exhibiting your skills and just exhibiting confidence. I am very happy where my game is right now. I am not focusing on bowling fast again. I am just studying taking wickets for the West Indies.
Talking on Michael Holding's YouTube channel recently, Roberts said there is no better fast bowler to left-handers than you at the moment. Do you think your angle makes it easier for you dominate them?
I have been doing pretty well against left-handers. That, too, took a lot of work. That actually started for me down here the last time West Indies came to England [in 2017]. Roddy Estwick, our assistant coach right now, he said how about I create a different angle to left-handers, coming round the wicket, and get the ball to straighten and go away from that. It took a couple of months of practice: it was very hard up front, angling the ball properly, but once you practise something a lot, you are going to master it at some stage. I am looking forward to this series as well - hopefully there's a lot of left-handers in the England team.
Should they be worried?
They should be.
Do you reckon one advantage the West Indies bowling unit have is, you are accustomed to bowling with the Dukes ball, which is used in England?
We have had a lot of series with the Dukes ball. It is a better ball for me, I'm not a big fan of the Kookaburra. The Dukes ball has a higher seam, does a little bit more for longer periods. That's very good for fast bowlers. Hopefully once we get the surfaces to our liking then me, Jason, Shannon and Alzarri [Joseph] can go out there and make it very hard for the English batsmen. We did a fantastic job in the Caribbean, and I don't see why we can't do it here in England as well.
How have you dealt with no saliva and only sweat?
It is tough. Luckily in the [first] practice game we had, it was a pretty hot, so a lot of guys were sweating. But the no-saliva thing is pretty tough. To just shine the ball using your clothes only is very, very hard. But it is something we have to adapt to. It is going to take a little while for us to find a remedy to get the ball shining.
Does the ball not swing as much with sweat as it usually does with saliva?
Not much usually. It is very hard to keep one side polished. There is still enough movement there to trouble the batsmen, but with saliva you can get a lot more.
So it could be hard work for fast bowlers?
It could be, especially in conditions in India and the subcontinent, where you really rely on the saliva to get you that reverse swing and keep the ball moving.
In terms of mentorship, what are you looking to pass on to the next batch of fast bowlers who are already in the squad, from Joseph to Chemar Holder to Oshane Thomas?
It is all about believing yourself. We all know Test cricket, international cricket, is very hard. These younger guys work very hard at their game. They ask lots of questions, always willing to learn. That's a very good sign. It is all about improving and believing in yourself that you can get the job done. So I am very eager to see in the next five-ten years what these guys produce for the West Indies, and I am sure we are in good hands going into the future.
What are your thoughts on the BLM movement? Daren Sammy believes cricket needs to have discussion on racism and a taskforce should be set up. You tweeted recently: "I'm Black And I'm Proud." How does cricket make sure it contributes to the wider movement globally to push for action?
It is all about equality. We as a team have discussed it in depth and we all believe that being the black team in cricket, it affects us. It is all about how we as individuals understand that racism is not right and it is just about us living as one, coming together. Let's set one rule for everyone and let's live together as one. I feel very passionate about it. We'll discuss it some more coming into the series and we will look to find the best way to speak and to address it going forward.
If cricket had to bring back saliva or crowds, what would you pick?
Crowd, give me the crowd. Give me the crowd.