Obituary, 2002

Roy Gilchrist

GILCHRIST, ROY, died at Portmore, St Catherine, in his native Jamaica on July 18, 2001, aged 67. The image of a bowler of genuinely high pace stricken with Parkinson's disease is a dolorous one, but such was Roy Gilchrist's fate. Following his brief but dramatic Test career, he had lived in England for many years, marrying and, not always in peaceful accord, rearing seven children before returning to the West Indies in 1985. He was accorded a ready welcome, but he was troubled by his health and by persistent hard times. His childhood on a sugar plantation had been impoverished and rough, and, in Michael Manley's sympathetic analysis, he was "burdened by those tensions which so often run like scars across the landscape of the personalities of people who come from poverty".

Certainly he was awkward to manage, insufferably so at times, and his Test career came to a precipitate termination in 1958-59 when his hard-pressed captain, Gerry Alexander, with the support of the senior players, dispatched "Gilly" home from India before the Pakistan leg of West Indies' tour of the subcontinent. Constant friction with Alexander off the field, coupled with over-aggressive bowling on it, including the unacceptable use of the beamer, was the cause. Banished from the international scene, he found professional slots in England, where he had toured in 1957 with mixed fortune. He played in the Lancashire leagues for a variety of clubs, including Middleton (for whom he took a total of 280 wickets in 1958 and 1959), going on to take 100 wickets every year until 1979. However, tales of atrocity, some perhaps arising from the proverbial tendency to give a dog a bad name, continued to emerge about his violently over-reactive attitude to batsmen and his unsparing use of the bouncer. Even charity matches were not free from his ferocious assaults: on one such occasion, at Werneth, that resolute Australian Cec Pepper luridly but successfully remonstrated with Gilchrist in terms not suitable to print.

Gilchrist's venomous bowling was the expression of a fiery, hostile personality. Of medium height, but long-armed and strong, he spearheaded, along with the young Wes Hall, the late 20th-century West Indian phalanx of unremittingly fast bowlers. Not since the heady days of Learie Constantine and Manny Martindale had they enjoyed so forceful an attack. Although Gilchrist's 21 wickets had cost almost 31 each when Pakistan toured the Caribbean in 1957-58, he was demonic in India, taking 26 in his four Tests at 16.11. In his best Test figures of six for 55, at Calcutta, five were bowled. All told, his 57 Test wickets in 13 outings averaged 26.68, while in 42 first-class matches his haul was 167 at 26, including one astonishing return of six for 16 at Nagpur when the West Indians bowled out a Combined Universities XI for 49. Roy Gilchrist played only five times for Jamaica, between 1956-57 and 1961-62, and he also had six games for Indian sides in 1962-63, when a number of West Indians were recruited to harden Indian batsmen to pace bowling.

© John Wisden & Co