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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  • kriscog on March 11, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    Thanks for the memories. I saw Roy Gilchrist bowl to Pankaj Roy & Vinoo Mankad back in 1958 in Delhi and he was frighteningly fast. He could make the ball rise from good length straight to your throat without having to resort to a so-called "bouncer"! I am now 75 years old and have watched, played, coached and administered cricket for nearly 65 years but I have never seen anyone to match the speed & ferocity of Roy. Yes, Gerry Alexander's action against him was a great loss to West Indian & International cricket. I shall never forget Roy Gilchrist.

  • Sir.Ivor on March 10, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    I think amarjitmadan really remembers vividly. But it was not Aleaxandra. I think he refers to Gerry Alexander the West Indies captain. Alexander had Roy Gilchrist sent back I remember too. I think Alexander and Swaranjit Singh were under grads in Cambridge together and were friends. Those were the days when only whites led West Indies. In that team under Gerry they had Sobers,Hall Kanhai, Smith,as well. It was truly a great team. And yes Roy Gilchrist was terrifyingly fast and physically hostile as well. I feel that even Gerry Alexander found him difficult to handle. Wes Hall on the other side was jovial and had a smile which you could seen from the stands we were seated. Once in Australia in trying to hit a six,Wes Hall hit the ground instead and was standing with only the handle in his hands and laughing.Sobers was the artist standing at slips with silke shirt and collars turned up. That was really the greatest team of cricketers I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching the game.

  • gudolerhum on March 10, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Poor people management robbed us of what could have been a great career. Alexander evidently id not approve of Gilchrist's aggression, particularly towards one of his friends, and this was allowed to prevent Gilchrist ever representing the WI again. I saw Gilchrist in Barbados against Pakistan, Hanif Mohammed, and he was lightning fast, not until Jeff Thompson did I see anyone as quick. He had a temper but surely this could have been 'managed'.

  • Amarjitmadan on March 10, 2013, 0:24 GMT

    In fact, Swaranjit Singh who was at Cambridge University with Alexendra hooked Gilchrist for a four and said to him how he liked the shot, flaring him. Gilchrist later said that the planned to bowl the fastest ball of his life and he did which touched Swaranjit's turban, with this he went to the batsman asked him how he liked the beamer? Swaranjit complained to Alaxendra who had him suspended n sent back from Amritsar which marked the end of this great bowler's career.It was most unfortunate that his career was spoilt for no fault of his.

  • on March 9, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    Roy was the fastest Bowler at that time , had a Terrible subcontinent tour where his tempers got out of his control,

  • kriscog on March 11, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    Thanks for the memories. I saw Roy Gilchrist bowl to Pankaj Roy & Vinoo Mankad back in 1958 in Delhi and he was frighteningly fast. He could make the ball rise from good length straight to your throat without having to resort to a so-called "bouncer"! I am now 75 years old and have watched, played, coached and administered cricket for nearly 65 years but I have never seen anyone to match the speed & ferocity of Roy. Yes, Gerry Alexander's action against him was a great loss to West Indian & International cricket. I shall never forget Roy Gilchrist.

  • Sir.Ivor on March 10, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    I think amarjitmadan really remembers vividly. But it was not Aleaxandra. I think he refers to Gerry Alexander the West Indies captain. Alexander had Roy Gilchrist sent back I remember too. I think Alexander and Swaranjit Singh were under grads in Cambridge together and were friends. Those were the days when only whites led West Indies. In that team under Gerry they had Sobers,Hall Kanhai, Smith,as well. It was truly a great team. And yes Roy Gilchrist was terrifyingly fast and physically hostile as well. I feel that even Gerry Alexander found him difficult to handle. Wes Hall on the other side was jovial and had a smile which you could seen from the stands we were seated. Once in Australia in trying to hit a six,Wes Hall hit the ground instead and was standing with only the handle in his hands and laughing.Sobers was the artist standing at slips with silke shirt and collars turned up. That was really the greatest team of cricketers I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching the game.

  • gudolerhum on March 10, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Poor people management robbed us of what could have been a great career. Alexander evidently id not approve of Gilchrist's aggression, particularly towards one of his friends, and this was allowed to prevent Gilchrist ever representing the WI again. I saw Gilchrist in Barbados against Pakistan, Hanif Mohammed, and he was lightning fast, not until Jeff Thompson did I see anyone as quick. He had a temper but surely this could have been 'managed'.

  • Amarjitmadan on March 10, 2013, 0:24 GMT

    In fact, Swaranjit Singh who was at Cambridge University with Alexendra hooked Gilchrist for a four and said to him how he liked the shot, flaring him. Gilchrist later said that the planned to bowl the fastest ball of his life and he did which touched Swaranjit's turban, with this he went to the batsman asked him how he liked the beamer? Swaranjit complained to Alaxendra who had him suspended n sent back from Amritsar which marked the end of this great bowler's career.It was most unfortunate that his career was spoilt for no fault of his.

  • on March 9, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    Roy was the fastest Bowler at that time , had a Terrible subcontinent tour where his tempers got out of his control,

  • on March 9, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    Roy was the fastest Bowler at that time , had a Terrible subcontinent tour where his tempers got out of his control,

  • Amarjitmadan on March 10, 2013, 0:24 GMT

    In fact, Swaranjit Singh who was at Cambridge University with Alexendra hooked Gilchrist for a four and said to him how he liked the shot, flaring him. Gilchrist later said that the planned to bowl the fastest ball of his life and he did which touched Swaranjit's turban, with this he went to the batsman asked him how he liked the beamer? Swaranjit complained to Alaxendra who had him suspended n sent back from Amritsar which marked the end of this great bowler's career.It was most unfortunate that his career was spoilt for no fault of his.

  • gudolerhum on March 10, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    Poor people management robbed us of what could have been a great career. Alexander evidently id not approve of Gilchrist's aggression, particularly towards one of his friends, and this was allowed to prevent Gilchrist ever representing the WI again. I saw Gilchrist in Barbados against Pakistan, Hanif Mohammed, and he was lightning fast, not until Jeff Thompson did I see anyone as quick. He had a temper but surely this could have been 'managed'.

  • Sir.Ivor on March 10, 2013, 6:38 GMT

    I think amarjitmadan really remembers vividly. But it was not Aleaxandra. I think he refers to Gerry Alexander the West Indies captain. Alexander had Roy Gilchrist sent back I remember too. I think Alexander and Swaranjit Singh were under grads in Cambridge together and were friends. Those were the days when only whites led West Indies. In that team under Gerry they had Sobers,Hall Kanhai, Smith,as well. It was truly a great team. And yes Roy Gilchrist was terrifyingly fast and physically hostile as well. I feel that even Gerry Alexander found him difficult to handle. Wes Hall on the other side was jovial and had a smile which you could seen from the stands we were seated. Once in Australia in trying to hit a six,Wes Hall hit the ground instead and was standing with only the handle in his hands and laughing.Sobers was the artist standing at slips with silke shirt and collars turned up. That was really the greatest team of cricketers I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching the game.

  • kriscog on March 11, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    Thanks for the memories. I saw Roy Gilchrist bowl to Pankaj Roy & Vinoo Mankad back in 1958 in Delhi and he was frighteningly fast. He could make the ball rise from good length straight to your throat without having to resort to a so-called "bouncer"! I am now 75 years old and have watched, played, coached and administered cricket for nearly 65 years but I have never seen anyone to match the speed & ferocity of Roy. Yes, Gerry Alexander's action against him was a great loss to West Indian & International cricket. I shall never forget Roy Gilchrist.