West Indies cricket March 8, 2013

An encounter with the 'dreaded' Roy Gilchrist

Richard Minott
A West Indies fan on experiencing the softer side of the once-feared Roy Gilchrist

I faced up to Roy Gilchrist once, and the experience was far from terrifying. There were no decapitating beamers, no sharp rising bouncers, no harsh words and certainly no knives (we will get the knives bit later). In fact, I came away from the five-minute encounter with what can only be described as a few 'juicy' full tosses.

It was 1995 and I, a single-minded 17-year-old, was making my debut for the Hanover cricket team in Jamaica's premier club competition. We were playing against Melbourne Cricket Club (that institution that produced Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, and Marlon Samuels). No pressure then. Playing cricket for Jamaica and West Indies was only going to be my job for the next 20 years.

I opened the innings and after an hour or so, I was out for 17. Shivnarine Chanderpaul could not have been more disappointed. I walked off the field and straight into the dressing room to sulk. After a few minutes, one of my team-mates came in and told me someone wanted to have a word. I was not keen on talking to anyone but I came out anyway.

My team-mate pointed me to an old man sitting on a chair and told me he was Roy Gilchrist, the former West Indies fast bowler. I had come across the name before during my many hours in the Hanover Parish Library, reading any cricket book I could lay hands on. But whatever little I had read about him, had drowned in an ocean of knowledge about Frank Worrell, George Headley, Viv Richards, Jack Hobbs and even WG Grace.

I walked over and Mr Gilchrist extended his hand, the same hand that had propelled a red five-and-three-quarter-ounce object with velocity and meanness in the direction of batsmen throughout his career. I did not know this then, nonetheless I was touched. I shook his hand and he smiled.

We chatted for a little while and he said he liked my determination and courage (I was backing up to Melbourne pacers Junior Hall and Derron Dixon). He told me that if I continued like this I would be a successful player, but I needed to work really hard on my running between the wickets. I thanked him and walked away with an even greater determination to become a professional cricketer.

Years passed and like many with similar dreams, I realised that my skills did not equate with my desires. So I traded those dreams for more realistic, if mundane, ones.

I did, however, properly research Roy Gilchrist, and was sad to discover that he was not always easy to get along with. I was even more disappointed that he did not achieve the greatness that his talent deserved. He was sent home from the 1958-59 West Indies tour of the subcontinent after ignoring his captain's warning to stop bowling beamers and bouncers. He is also alleged to have pulled a knife on his leader. He was regarded as the world's fastest bowler, but he never played for the regional team again.

Despite the issues, I think Gilchrist's international career could have been salvaged. CLR James, the cricket writer and journalist, felt the same. In 1959, while campaigning for Worrell to become the first black captain of the West Indies team, James tried to have Gilchrist reinstated. He was convinced that the pacer's impoverished background and his sudden elevation to stardom was the cause for some of his bad behaviour, and said it was to be presumed that Gilchrist would mature with time and under the right leadership. Unlike the incumbent, Gerry Alexander, whom he could not get along with, Gilchrist worshiped Worrell and James knew this.

His plan was to have Worrell talk to the bowler and have him make a public apology but his effort was stonewalled. So he wrote in his newspaper, asking the West Indies authorities reconsider, but to no avail. And so, at 24 with only 13 matches and 57 wickets at 26.68 apiece, Gilchrist's international career had come to an end.

Some would say Roy Gilchrist was his own demolition man. And what do I know? I only met him briefly, at a time when he might not have been able to lob a cricket ball 11 yards much more 22, or even cut bread properly. However, in those few minutes, he proved he wasn't all menace.

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