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Match Analysis

Blood, sweat, tears… and skills: Roach's formula for success

He is level with Michael Holding on 249 Test wickets, and wants to get to 300 within the next two years

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Kemar Roach grabbed 5 for 53, four of which were wickets of frontline batters  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

Kemar Roach grabbed 5 for 53, four of which were wickets of frontline batters  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

Kemar Roach is a great West Indian fast bowler. Courtney Walsh had touched on the label when he was approaching his 200th Test wicket in 2020.
When Roach completed his five-for against Bangladesh on the third afternoon in Antigua, he equalled Michael Holding's 249 Test wickets, and became only the fourth West Indian to take 50 wickets at a single venue. Roach's numbers are - even when you consider the bigger picture of West Indies' fast bowling history - impressive.
It is even more telling when you realise that Roach has never been part of one of those magnificent pace collectives that his nation is known for. Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder are superb operators, but the trio has played only 23 Tests together. Like in this game, Roach has often had to lead an attack of youngsters.
Four out of his five wickets on Saturday were of frontline batters. Roach had Litton Das and Mahmudul Hasan Joy caught behind around the first-hour mark on the third day. An in-form batter and another who had been battling for 150-plus deliveries suddenly couldn't help pushing outside their off stump. That's the genius of Roach. He keeps it simple. He keeps it tight. And he keeps on going until his discipline alone just wears you out.
Bangladesh managed to recover a little bit - and even push into the lead - with fifties from Shakib Al Hasan and Nurul Hasan. It had been 36.5 overs since the last wicket. West Indies knew they needed something special and guess who they turned to.
Roach, now armed with the second new ball, cleaned up Shakib, Nurul and for good measure Ebadot Hossain as well to pick up his 10th Test five-for.
In a post-match discussion with the TV commentators, Roach said that the plan was to bowl a bit wider of off stump, into the grassy patches that were there on the pitch, to generate movement.
"I had a conversation with the bowling coach Roddy [Estwick], who thought that we were bowling a little bit too straight [on the second evening]," he said. "The pitch was a bit easier. He wanted us to bowl on the fifth stump; let the green spots in the pitch do the work. I thought we did that pretty well.
"The edges carried to the slips quite nicely. It was definitely the plan. Definitely we did what was needed. The results showed. I am very proud of the team for putting up the good fight."
Roach added that West Indies didn't panic when Shakib and Nurul were putting together the only century stand in the match.
"They played well. We were a bit sloppy," he said. "There were some tired bodies, but the guys stuck at the task. We knew that in international cricket, teams will bat well at some stage. There will be a partnership, so it is about keeping that body language and attitude.
"We saw the ball got pretty soft after lunch, so we tried to be as patient as possible. Shakib batted well despite being a little injured; but he maneuvered the ball well. [Nurul] Hasan batted well. We knew this was a new-ball wicket. Once we get the new ball, we knew something was going to happen."
I love my stats. I look at my stats every night. Even if I am not playing.
Kemar Roach
West Indies need only 35 more runs to win the Antigua Test. Roach was the one who bowled them into that position and so it felt like a good time to reflect on a career that has seen a lot of ups and downs. It actually began in less-than-ideal circumstances back in 2009 when West Indies had to play with a second-string squad against Bangladesh because the first-choice players were involved in a pay dispute with the board.
"I am proud, man; [Particularly considering] how [my career] started obviously. I came into the team under very difficult conditions," Roach said. "Then obviously to build a career and get amongst the greats is always a good feeling. I love my stats. I look at my stats every night. Even if I am not playing. So it is good to be up there with all the fantastic names."
Roach also touched upon how he had to break his bowling down to scratch and build it back up again after an ankle problem in 2014. "I lost pace due to injury, so I had to improve on my skills," he said. "There was a lot of hard work; lot of consistent bowling to get where you want to be in your career. Blood, sweat and tears. It is good to go out there and see the results."
A key part of his skillset now is the threat he poses left-handers by coming around the wicket. "It started in England in 2017," Roach said. "I remember we struggled a bit in the first Test. Roddy asked us to change the angle - to come around the wicket - in the next day when we hit the nets. He told us to get that shape on the ball. I have got a lot of wickets from it. I have bowled better to left-handers. I am pretty happy with how it is going so far."
A lot of great West Indies fast bowlers had other great West Indies fast bowlers around them. Roach hasn't had that luxury. He has clawed his way up to greatness almost entirely on his own. And he has no plans of slowing down. A self-confessed stat nut, Roach is targeting the 300-wicket mark and if he gets there, even the traditionalists who have a hard time looking past the glory days will have to sit up and take notice.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84