The death of Roy Clifton Fredericks, "Freddo" to those who knew him well, was something of a shock to me. I certainly knew that he had been suffering from throat cancer, but I also was led to believe that he was recovering well after having surgery in the United States of America late last year. Indeed, I last saw "Freddo" during the Pakistan v West Indies Test at the Bourda Oval earlier this year, and he looked to be in fine form. His sudden demise has certainly surprised me.
There must be something special planned elsewhere. What, over the last few years or so, not only did the West Indies lose some special fast bowlers, including Barbadian quickies Malcolm Marshall and Sylvester Clarke, and Trinidadian Jaswick Taylor, but Barbadian opening batsman Conrad Hunte also left us. Even before that, another Guyanese, Clifford McWatt, a wicket-keeper, also went to the playing fields elsewhere, just following the departure of Barbadian all-rounder Keith Boyce. Could it be that somewhere, elsewhere outside of our world, another West Indian cricket team is being configured and reunited for some special appointment?
No Guyanese, nor indeed no regional West Indian cricketer involved in the late 60's and early 70's, would not have met "Freddo." When he had just come to the regional scene, around 1966/67, from Blairmont sugar estate, on the West Bank of the Berbice river, he formed a very valuable, productive and lasting partnership with Steven Camacho, who, incidentally, has just retired from the position of Chief Executive Officer of the West Indies Cricket Board.
Between them, they generally murdered the bowling, especially fast bowling, from every country in the Caribbean. That the two actually played Test cricket was not surprising at all. Many of us went through high school suggesting, when we batted, that we were either "Fredericks", "Camacho", "Lloyd", "Kanhai" or "Kallicharran." To us as schoolboys, these names were legends. For me to have played either with them, or against them, in some form of "proper" advanced cricket, even in Test cricket, was a bonus, an especially special treat.
By the time I had met "Freddo" for the first time, in 1970/71, while just graduating from high school, aged 17 plus, he was already well established at the regional and international level. Roy Fredericks was one of the very few international cricketers then; (Sir) Clyde Walcott, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, all by then retired, and Clive Lloyd, were the others; who actually came regularly to see the youthful Under 19 players at practice, to give tips and to help us out generally. These guys always wanted to help, without being too intrusive. Their presence was always welcomed by all of us.
In my first "senior" Shell Shield tour for Guyana in 1972, (I had traveled to Jamaica in 1971 as a Youth player), I learned new respect for "Freddo." He was assigned as my room-mate for the duration of our three week trip to Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Although I was the youngest member of the party then at just 18, "Freddo" never even suggested that he was my "senior", preferring always to treat me with respect, patiently explaining all of the necessary rules of the cricket game, and everything else too associated with being an international cricketer. That was no easy task, I am sure, dealing with an 18 year old, but I could not have wanted a better teacher, even though others, like Lance Gibbs, Steve Camacho, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kallicharran, all excellent in their own right as teachers, were also on that tour and contributed to our welfare well enough.
One thing was immediately obvious to us youngsters. "Freddo" feared no fast bowler around, yet gave them all the respect they deserved. Indeed, he became known in later life as "Kid Cement", more as a reference to his toughness, hardness and uncompromising batsmanship, than anything else. "Freddo" started playing cricket when there were no helmets worn by anyone at all, yet only late in his cricketing life, about 1978, during Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, did he actually wear one. It was suggested that seldom did he allow the ball to get close to his head, so good was his eyesight, so great were his foot movements and so ferocious was his cutting, pulling and hooking, three wonderful cricket shots that are almost extinct these days in the modern cricket game.
No so long ago, just before then end of the last millenium, I tried to select "my" own "All West Indies Team" of 16. With the present retirement of Curtly Ambrose, that will now be enlarged to "CC's A WI T of 17." My West Indies team of all time, before Ambrose's recent inclusion, read thus:
Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Roy Fredericks, Conrad Hunte, Jeffrey Dujon, Jackie Hendricks, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Everton Weekes, Lance Gibbs, George Headley, Michael Holding, Wes Hall, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner with Clive Lloyd as captain.
While many wondered and queried why I had not included Rohan Kanhai instead of Clive Lloyd; (Lloyd had to be included as the most successful West Indies captain and a great producer too), I understood the arguments for Kanhai. However, no-one even questioned the inclusion of Roy Fredericks, even though my "All West Indies" team had four opening batsmen in Hunte, Greenidge, Haynes and Fredericks, so highly are they all regarded by the cricketing fraternity everywhere.
Just before Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes became a cricketing item, as openers, there had been Gordon Greenidge and Roy Fredericks. Indeed, Fredericks was actually before Greenidge, as "Freddo" started his Test career in 1968 against the Australians. Greenidge only started his in 1973 in India. Fredericks played his last series, and his last Test, with me included, for the first time in the West Indies cricket team, against Pakistan in 1976/77. He even made a glorious century in the 2nd Test of that, his last series, at Port of Spain, my 2nd Test. That he was not "Man of the Match" of that game was due only to the fact that I managed, somehow, to get my best Test figures in Pakistan's first innings, 8-29.
By the end of that Pakistani series, Fredericks had managed 59 Tests for 4334 runs at the tremendous average, for an opening batsman, of 42.49. He also managed 26 Test fifties and eight Test centuries, more than half of his Test appearances producing at least a half century each time he batted.
None of those innings could be better than his colossal 169, his highest Test score, at Perth, against the might of the original "Four Pronged Attack"; Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thompson, Gary Gilmour and Max Walker, the same four who had terrorized the West Indies in the 1st Test, and were to terrorize them further before that torturous tour was over with the Australians winning 5-1.
Fredericks hooked, cut, slashed, bludgeoned, gored, scythed, thrust, drove, parried and perhaps "drew and quartered" the world best bowling attack, then, as they had never been before or since. To this day, that innings of 169 at Perth, then lightening fast, the fastest pitch in the world, much faster that it is now, is talked about by all who either witnessed it, read about it, heard it on radios, or saw it on television. It is perhaps one of the best innings, if not indeed the best, ever played by an opening batsman in defiance of all around him, with his very life dangling in front of him at all times, with deliveries clocked, in the "old way", at over 100 miles per hour.
To this day, I can remember the conversations in the dressing rooms between "Freddo", Deryck Murray, Clive Lloyd and others who had endured that tour of Australia 1975/76 as they talked animatedly about the tour and those "demons", Lillee and Thompson. All of the players considered "Freddo" the toughest and bravest of the lot, with a body and mind of granite, at least. That, simply, was "Freddo." On the cricket field, he always flew in the face of everything that came at him, totally uncompromising in his fight for runs for whichever team he was playing for.
Even as a youngster, I understood that getting such a wicket was valuable. In trial matches at Bourda, or playing for Guyana Sports Club against "Freddo's" club, Demerara Cricket Club, "Freddo" gave you every chance to get him out, since there was no great finesse in his slashes, even though his drives and hooks were from the text book. Try as one might, with even three slips and two gullies, the ball always sped to the boundary. It was as if "Freddo" dared all to catch him in the "arc", so hard did he hit the ball. Few ever did. Even in a club team that boasted of Clive Lloyd, it was "Freddo" who was always "smoking."
In the World Cup final in 1975, many might also remember, or may have read, that "Freddo" was out "hit wicket", as he slipped on to his wicket while executing a hook. I wonder how many people also remember that the ball was actually hooked out of the ground and deposited into St. John's Wood road, which runs parallel to Lords, for a six that never was.
The bowler, incidentally, was Dennis Lillee, then the world's second fastest bowler, only by a shade, to Jeffrey Thomson. The sold out crowd should have immediately shouted "robbery" then, even though Clive Lloyd also massacred the Australians that day for a "Man of the Match" 102.
"Freddo" always did as he had promised, giving back a bit to his country and its cricketing fraternity. He became the captain of Guyana, and in one game I remember playing against Barbados in 1978, Guyana dropped about 21 catches from the bowling of Keith Cameron, Sydney Matthews and Colin Croft, the fast bowlers. Of course, after such a performance in the field, Guyana lost badly, but the only person who actually caught all that was offered to him was Roy Fredericks, fielding at gully.
He had done exactly that, fielding at the same position, to take 62 catches in Test cricket. He was a tremendous fieldsman, anywhere on the field, but at gully, perhaps only Lance Gibbs and in later years, Joel Garner, could compare to "Kid Cement."
Then he became the tough no-nonsense Cricket Manager of Guyana, being very instrumental in Guyana winning the regional senior competition in 1983 for the very first time in a very long time. Before long, he was incorporated into the Ministry of Sports and then made Minister responsible for Sports. Not bad for a guy from Blairmont, like me, a "country boy." Even to the last time I saw "Freddo", he was still concerned about the lack of real batsmanship in today's West Indies cricket team, the real "guts" to play the game at the highest level.
He probably would have been embarrassed to have seen Wavell Hinds, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara, all of his left-handed ilk, duck, weave, flinch, squirm and generally be ill at ease at the 2nd Test at Lords, as the English fast bowlers dug deliveries into the drying lively pitch, resulting in the projectile getting into the rib areas of the batsmen. I guarantee that "Freddo" would have 'lashed' the bowlers so hard and so far, perhaps as far as Marble Arch, that they would have had to try something else to get him out. They certainly would have had to find new balls, in every way, o bowl with.
Yes, "Freddo" was indeed a tough champion, and many of us, who had been his friends and his team-mates, are going to miss him. Perhaps he never really had the kudos that were due him. Whatever happens, I hope that the West Indies cricket team that is being put together 'up there' gives some inspiration to the one still here. This present West Indies cricket team needs all of the help that it can get.