Shanon Gabriel and Kemar Roach’s form in the home season has reminded us of the glorious legacy of pace bowling of Caribbean. We rewind the clock back to analyze, which are best pairs of fast bowling since legends- Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh retired
By the time Courtney Walsh retired against South Africa in April 2001, experts and fans have polarised views. While fans expected West Indies to produce more fearsome pacers the experts have predicted that West Indies’s pool of pace bowlers was drying.
Throughout this period while West Indian batting continued to flounder, the bowling has remained a better aspect of their game. The rise of Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach might be the first startling moment indicating the West Indies finally have a world class bowling pair in the new millennium.
After the retirement of Ambrose and Walsh, in early years Mervyn Dillon led the pack with 73 wickets in 21 tests at 34.73.
Cameron Cuffy and Pedro Collins also chipped in. But the attack was far from threatening. Things started to come in place by 2003 as West Indies found troika of Jermaine Lawson, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor. Three tearaway quickies with age and pace on their side. Was this the start of a Calypso revolution- the ball dethroning the changing vagaries of the bat? All wondered and pondered over endlessly.
Add to that, Pedro Collins and Corey Collymore (the current bowling coach). There was an added variety to the attack. It could’ve kickstarted a resurgence the fan has endlessly craved for and seen occasionally through the dogged batting displays of a Roach and Hope.
This newfound bowling talent ended the careers of the likes of Dillon, Reon Dane King and, Franklyn Rose- most remembered for tormenting India on their 90s Caribbean tour.
But while West Indies had the attack to boast for, it unfortunately faltered. Lawson’s career was derailed due to an action problem. He was but a frail shadow of himself by the time Lara’s career was ending. Pedro Collins, who could bring the ball sharply in and get assistance in the air, dropped out of the flavour with selectors.
The biggest shock, howoever, was the exit of Corry Colleymore- by far the best bowler the West Indies had at the time, despite not possessing menacing pace. In a lighter vein, it could be said- he was the Dwayne Bravo of variations at the Test level.
All the responsibilities fell on young shoulders of Taylor and Edwards thereafter. Fidel Edwards with 59 and Taylor with 51 Test scalps were topping charts in the Caribbean from 2006-2009 West Indies.
But with their exits, came another lull and with it a despairing question. What now? What next?
Thankfully, the West Indies found Kemar Roach and Shanon Gabriel. If one were to analyse their importance, you’d simply pose an easy question to the fan that still manages to fill in otherwise empty stadia:
Can you imagine the bowling unit minus these two?
Roach and Gabriel are blessed with a strong built and bring those powerful shoulders to extract an extra yard of pace. While Roach left an immediate impact by his raw pace and bounce taking 13 wickets in his debut series, his spell against Ricky Ponting on 2009-10 tour is still remembered as the pacer hit the Ponting on his elbow.
This would manifest in an injury which troubled the champion batsman till the end of his career. Roach was appraised for his pace and control. He wasn’t going to fall down like ninepins like his previous less succesful compatriots did.
Against Australia in 2012, Roach showed his class at Port of Spain bowling a spell of hostility, having Australian batsmen jumping like a cat on hot tin roof. Where were the Kangaroos then, you wondered in silent admiration.
He took 10 wickets in the match, not only his first 10-for but the maiden ten wicket haul for a West Indian bowler since 2005. Does he get enough credit for this feat?
After enduring a car injury in 2014, Roach lost form and dropped his pace a bit. But the champion he his- he returned and from that period hasn’t left the side. Thankfully, nor has the side discarded him. For a board that makes obituaries of promising careers- remember Sarwan- this is a watershed moment of sorts.
From 2014, Kemar Roach has formed a formidable pair with Shanon Gabriel. The Barbadian has taken 163 wickets in 48 Tests at 28.3 and in the series against Bangladesh, let’s contend with the fact he bullied them.
Shannon Gabriel on the other hand, has faced an opposite start to his Test career. In spite of having pace, he seemed erratic, was sort of wayward and lacked discipline in his bowling. Too many no-balls? You know who the fall guy was.
But since 2017, one wonders is it even the same wreckless Shanon Gabriel who emerged back then? The transformed tearaway, in picking up 59 wickets in just 13 Tests at a very Curtly Ambrose average of 23.16 has arrested attention.
During this period he had troubled some of the best names in the business. He unsettled Cook and Root at Headingley. He was just returning from a shoulder ache. Today, Roach and Gabriel are also the most successful fast bowling pair for the West Indies since Ambrose and Walsh’s exit.
One, having started his young career with promise and the other, having challenged stalwarts like Sanga, Dravid and Ponting- you know it’s fire and fire not fire and ice when it’s Roach and Gabriel attacking in tandem.
However its just a start of the journey for these two.
Let’s not lose our heads. There will be dry patches. But one’s got to believe that Roach and Gabriel are the fire that can resurrect the West Indies.