Exclusive chat with Windies legend Andy Roberts

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There is no bowling opening pair in the history of cricket that has generated as much awe-inspired praise as Sir Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, the two men who were the spearheads of the all-conquering West Indies side of the late seventies and early eighties.

Sir Andy was the quickest man to 100 Test wickets when he got there in England in the summer 1976. He was the man who was there at the beginning of the now legendary tactic of four West Indian quicks that terrified batsmen.

There has been much talk since of how we don't have bowlers that are as quick nowadays, but Roberts says that is it very difficult to make a comparative judgement.

"I think bowlers in the seventies and eighties bowled a lot quicker than they are bowling today," Sir Andy told Cricket365.

"You had no sophisticated instruments to judge how fast one was bowling. In those days they used a high speed camera and today they use radar or television. You could see with the naked eye how quick we were bowling. We had nothing to judge how fast we were.

"I see some fast bowlers bowling at 90 miles an hour. So in the seventies and eighties Jeff Thompson, Michael Holding, myself, Dennis Lillie, we used to bowl 100mph plus. There is actually no comparison. You can't compare one era to the next."

The real question that flows from this assessment is why are bowlers not reaching the speeds that they were? Perhaps they are, but as Roberts says, it is so difficult to tell.

One of the reasons Roberts suggests for the absence of out and out speed merchants is the physique of today’s fast bowlers.

He explained: "In seventies and eighties all the quick men were a lot heavier than they are today. They are so much lighter today and that is why you find more fast bowlers are injury prone in the modern day than they were in the olden days.

"We were bowling a lot more, yes. There is a complaint that they play too much cricket. How many matches will the England team play in a given year in a given summer? We had more days playing than they have today."

If anything, Sir Andy says playing more days of cricket is better for a bowler than just training in the gym: "It helps to play, once you get into a rhythm it is more difficult to get out of it.

"But if you lose the rhythm today then how long does it take you to get back because you are not actually playing?

"I have said on numerous occasions that I couldn't play international cricket today because of the training, the fitness agenda and the way these guys look. Because the majority of them look fit but they are not actually fit for cricket. There is a big difference between bowling fitness and physical fitness."

Roberts mentioned the benefits of hard work regularly during our chat and he spoke of the drive that the great West Indies side of his time put in to be the best that they could be.

He continued: "I think what we did is that our love for the game and the hard work that we put in, in terms of net practices to develop ourselves to the highest possible level. It depends on the individual and how much hard work that individual is prepared to put in."

Although that hard work is important, it is not enough on its own. There has to be an innate ability to deliver a cricket ball that quickly.

He added: "I think you are born with it within you. There is something with in you. Because fast bowling is not strength. It is rhythm and the drive that you have.

"Because some of the strongest people, the strongest throwing arms can't bowl fast. So you have to have that drive. Remember being a fast bowler is a move forward art. You have to move forward when you deliver the ball."

In recent times, success for the West Indies has come in cricket’s shortest format, not its oldest. Sir Andy is a team mentor for the St Lucia Zouks franchise at the Caribbean Premier League and he says playing cricket is more important than focusing on the type of cricket.

The legend explains: "If West Indies cricket is to rebound we need more people playing cricket. Remember we have a very small population as far as the West Indies concerned. Our population is a tiny dot compared to England, Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"So if we can get more youngsters to watch the game to come to the game then we can get them wanting to play cricket. That is what it is all about. The more people that you have playing the better.

"Look at David Warner. He is probably one of the best opening batsmen in the world. He started only playing T20. But he has a love for the game so he developed into a Test match batsman by playing T20.

"So you can develop from playing T20, if you are good enough you should be good enough to play any format of the game."

Perhaps the most famous story that is told about Andy Roberts is from the 1979 World Cup final at Lord’s. Geoff Boycott was batting for England in his typically sedate fashion. Boycott finally played an attack shot only to loop the ball straight to West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd. It was the easiest of chances and Lloyd was the best fielder in the world. He dropped it.

The suggestion has long been that Lloyd dropped it on purpose and that Roberts yelled 'drop it, drop it, drop it' at his captain while the ball was in the air. So did he yell that instruction to put the chance down?

To whit: "Yes I did. The thing about one day games is it is not about how many runs you score, it’s how much runs the other teams score. If you have a batsman that can't hit the ball off the square then keep him in as long as possible.

"I don't know if [Lloyd] dropped it on purpose, but I wanted him to drop it. 'Keep Boycott in, keep Boycott in, keep them both in.'  We didn't need Graham Gooch or Derek Randall coming in, someone who can score at five or six an over.

"No, you want someone who is scoring at one or two runs an over. And that’s Boycs."

Peter Miller

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