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The passing of Roy Gilchrist in Jamaica on Wednesday was noticed with more than passing interest in India, where he played his last Test match in 1959 and last first class match in 1963. Sir Garfield Sobers has gone on record that Gilchrist was the fastest bowler he played with or against. India's current chairman of selectors Chandu Borde who crossed swords with the fiery Jamaican in the home series of 1958/59 was only too happy to concur with that assessment.
Gilchrist was 67 when he died while Borde celebrates his 67th birthday tomorrow. "He was the fastest bowler I played against, a real terror. We had never played that kind of bowling before. His motto was to hit the batsman so that he would be scared and get out" said Borde, speaking to CricInfo from his Pune residence. "I've played him in domestic cricket in India and in the Lancashire League too. We were good friends" he added.
Borde struck India's only century in the 1958/59 series which West Indies won 3-0, aided not inconsiderably by the menacing duo of Wesley Hall and Gilchrist who claimed 56 wickets between them. "Hall was fast in patches and used to mix his pace cleverly. Gilchrist was fast all the time and had tremendous stamina. In the Bombay Test he bowled virtually through the final day" said Borde, comparing the two speed merchants.
The fifth Test at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla brought the curtains down on an eminently forgettable series for India in which they sported four captains. One of the few happy memories surrounds Borde who produced twin scores of 109 and 96 to create a minor piece of Indian folklore. On the last day, Borde dug in till the fag end even as wickets tumbled around him. When Gilchrist bowled Desai to extract India's eighth wicket with a couple of overs to spare, the hosts were 45 runs in front and the match was saved.
Borde was stranded on 95 and the players trooped off since the injured Vijay Manjrekar and Polly Umrigar were not expected to bat. But Hemu Adhikari, the skipper, gestured to them to stay put and sure enough, Manjrekar emerged with his arm heavily plastered. "Gilchrist's bouncer was very dangerous. It used to skid onto you and the aim was unerring. He often bowled four bouncers in an over" recalled Borde. In the last over of the Delhi Test, Borde hooked one such snorter from Gilchrist but upset the stumps in the bargain to be out hit wicket for 96.
Incredibly, that was to be Gilchrist's last ball in Test cricket. Despite taking 26 wickets in four Tests, he was sent home in disgrace and Borde picks up the story again. It revolves around the beamer which was the most potent weapon in Gilchrist's repertoire, SK Gurunathan once writing that he used it as a stock ball rather than a shock ball. "Even I was on the receiving end of his beamers, but somehow I managed to avoid them" recalls Borde.
In their final engagement of the tour, West Indies were drawn to play North Zone at Amritsar. North Zone captain Swaranjit Singh had incurred the Jamaican's wrath a few years earlier and Gilchrist sought to ping him on his turban in retribution. As Borde remembers, "When Swaranjit was at Cambridge University, he had written something nasty about Gilchrist who had not forgotten it. The moment he came to know it was the same chap, Gilchrist was keen to pay him back."
Skipper Gerry Alexander, disciplinarian that he was, was not impressed by the missiles directed against Swaranjit who was his old Cambridge team mate. Gilchrist was asked to pack his bags and head for home rather than Pakistan which was the next stop. Nor was he ever picked again and a blossoming Test career was nipped in the bud at the age of 24.
Four years later Gilchrist returned to India along with three fellow quicks from the Caribbean - Chester Watson, Charlie Stayers and Lester King - in a startling display of initiative by the BCCI to improve the techniques of local batsmen against fast bowling. He played only a solitary Ranji Trophy game for Hyderabad: the quarter final which they lost to Bengal at Calcutta where Pankaj Roy tamed the Gilchrist menace with two hundreds in the match. As Ramachandra Guha relates in 'Wickets in the East', Roy hooked him for three successive fours and Gilchrist was so frustrated that he ended the over bowling underarm.
Gilchrist also played in the Duleep Trophy and the Moin-ud-Dowla Cup. His last first class appearance curiously came for Andhra Chief Minister's XI against the Indian Starlets, part of a series of fundraisers for the country's defence in the wake of the Chinese attack. Borde sums up the effect of Gilchrist's bellicose nature on his tribe with the admission that "a lot of batsmen were out before going onto the field" to play the short but deadly Jamaican.