Obituary, 2001

Roy Fredericks

FREDERICKS, ROY CLIFTON, who died of cancer on September 5, 2000, aged 57, was one of the handful of batsmen who distinguished themselves by counter-attacking the great pace bowlers of the 1970s. He is remembered best for his blazing performance at Perth in 1975-76, when he raced to one of the most astonishing of all Test centuries. This series was eventually won 5-1 by Australia, with Lillee and Thomson at full pelt. But in the Second Test, on an incredibly fast WACA pitch, Fredericks took them on in amazing fashion. The harder they banged the ball in, the harder he cut and hooked. Into the second morning, he opened what might have been a diffident reply to Australia's 329: at lunch West Indies were 130 for one off 14 eight-ball overs; the 200 came up in the 22nd. Fredericks went on to reach a hundred from 71 balls and, though he grew tired, turned it into a match-winning 169. This was merely a distillation of his entire career. "There has," as Mike Selvey wrote, "probably never been a better or more willing exponent of the hook." His most famous single shot was a failure, however: right at the start of the first World Cup final, he hooked a ball from Lillee over longleg - only to tread on his wicket in the process.

A small (about 5ft 6in) left-hander from Berbice, Fredericks made his debut for what was then British Guiana in 1963-64, and for nine years and 59 Tests - from 1968-69 until the World Series schism of 1977 - he provided half the answer to the conundrum of who should open for West Indies. This had been intractable even when Conrad Hunte was playing, and remained a source of constant change and argument until Gordon Greenidge emerged to join Fredericks in the mid-1970s. He preferred to tilt his cap back, rock on to his left foot and smash the ball hard, but he was capable of playing as a traditional opener. When West Indies first brought him in, for the 1968 Boxing Day Test at Melbourne after Clive Lloyd was injured, he batted throughout a slightly shortened, bitterly cold opening day while the rest of the batting collapsed around him. With 76 and 47, he emerged with distinction from a drab performance.

This was a period of steep but brief West Indies decline and, though it took him a while to perform as well again, Fredericks became an important brick in the rebuilding process. He scored three fifties in six innings when West Indies lost a series to England (for the last time until 2000) in 1969 but did not score a century until February 1972 against New Zealand at Sabina Park, when his 163 was overshadowed by the doublecentury from debutant Lawrence Rowe. They put on 269. At Edgbaston in 1973, he scored 150 in his patient mode - taking eight hours and surviving a crisis when he was completely bogged down against Ray Illingworth - and a cautious 138 to ensure the draw when West Indies were unexpectedly up against it in the Lord's Test of 1976. A month later at Headingley, he returned to the attack, scoring 79 before lunch and reaching 109 in 156 minutes. However, even then he was just doing an opener's job: on that day everyone else really cut loose and West Indies had 437 by the close. Though he scored eight Test hundreds in his 109 innings, this was a low ratio for a player who averaged above 40 - he preferred the blistering fifty.

Fredericks averaged 63.83 for Guyana. In his three years with Glamorgan (1971-73), he was less consistent but spasmodically magnificent and extremely popular - not least with his opening partner Alan Jones, even though Jones described his calling as "terrible" and suffered from his musical tastes when they roomed together. On an amazing day at Swansea, they put on 330 against Northamptonshire, at the time a record for any Glamorgan wicket; they still lost. Fredericks announced his retirement in 1978, while playing World Series, but five years later, aged 40, he made a comeback for Guyana, batted twice, and scored 103 against Trinidad & Tobago and 217 against Jamaica. It was an astonishing way to finish. By then, he was already a junior minister in Forbes Burnham's left-wing Guyanese government, responsible for youth and sport, and known as Comrade; earlier in his playing days he had generally endeared himself by calling everyone "old chap". He remained attached to the government, but later concentrated on coaching. By then, openers around the world were batting in anonymous helmets. Fredericks was one of the last players who not only relished facing the best bowlers but looked as though he did.

© John Wisden & Co