Roy Gilchrist

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Roy Gilchrist, cricketer: born Seaforth, Jamaica 28 June 1934; married Maureen Dixon (seven children); died Portmore, Jamaica 18 July 2001.

Of all the numerous fast bowlers to emerge from the Caribbean region, none has inflicted more fear into the hearts of batsmen than Roy Gilchrist. He was not necessarily the fastest and certainly not the most imposing physically, but he was completely lacking in conscience when it came to line and length. Most notoriously, he flung down beamers – huge, fast full-tosses – at batsmen's heads, breaking the code of honour that somehow still remains intact despite the excesses of the years since Gilchrist's day.

His Test career closed prematurely after 13 Test matches in which he had taken 57 wickets at 26.68. The end came in India, after his attitude and behaviour during the 1958-59 tour had so exasperated the West Indies captain, Gerry Alexander, and the tour committee, that Gilchrist was sent home in disgrace. He was still only 24.

Born in Seaforth, Jamaica, in 1934, less than a year after another Jamaican from an impoverished background, the brilliant Collie Smith, Gilchrist grew up on a sugar plantation and developed great strength of shoulder by weightlifting at a local club. This strength, flowing through long arms and a fast, galloping run-up, made him a figure of terror, first to local batsmen, and soon to those from other territories in the region and other parts of the world. The naked hostility identified him as the ideal partner for the new young Barbados fast bowler Wes Hall as West Indies looked towards the 1960s, but, while the honest-to-goodness Hall won many honours and went on to take 192 Test wickets, Gilchrist enjoyed a mere 20 months of international stardom.

His Test début came at Edgbaston in 1957, and in the second Test, when England beat West Indies at Lord's by an innings, Gilchrist returned his side's best figures with four for 115, Tom Graveney and Peter May both overwhelmed without scoring. The only other distinction to follow for Gilchrist in a series won 3-0 by England was his role as third victim in Peter Loader's hat-trick at Headingley.

"Gilly" took only 37 fairly expensive wickets in 15 matches on the tour of England (a tour begun while the young Jamaican was as yet unable to write his name) but his bouncer had made its mark – on the bodies of some batsmen quite literally.

He led West Indies' attack when Pakistan toured a few months later. At Bridgetown, after West Indies had made almost 600, Gilchrist bounced his first delivery clean over the wicketkeeper's head. He was to take four for 32 as the visitors were swept away for 106 – only to pass 600 themselves in the follow-on (Hanif Mohammad 337 in over 16 hours), Gilchrist one for 121 off 41 persevering overs.

Gilchrist's speed was rewarded in the second Test, when he took seven wickets at Port of Spain. It was in the following Test, in Jamaica, that Garfield Sobers stroked his Test record of 365 not out. Had not West Indies declared at 790 for three it is possible that even the tailender Gilchrist might have made some runs against the exhausted and injury-depleted Pakistan bowling. An ankle injury in the fifth Test prevented him from adding to his 21 wickets.

At the end of 1958 came the fateful tour of India. Six wickets in the Bombay Test, nine at Calcutta, five at Madras, and six at Delhi, with rising apprehension in the Indian ranks, culminated in Gilchrist's expulsion. Twenty-six wickets at 16.11 left him atop the series averages (Hall took 30 at 17.67), and he had taken 71 wickets at under 14 on the tour. But the wild streak propelled him home (which was now in Lancashire), his remaining cricket to be played mainly in the leagues. In the season which followed, 1959, the deadly tearaway took a record 145 wickets at a mere 7.91 for Middleton on the Central Lancashire League.

His combustible temperament was exploited by opposition supporters, though their own batsmen would rather they had remained silent.

Stories abound of Roy Gilchrist's excesses on and off the field: physical confrontations, batsmen helped off, faces blood-spattered, a match abandoned when opposing club batsmen were in fear of their lives; hat-tricks galore, stumps splintered. Gilchrist the bus-driver, meanwhile, navigated his vehicle through the narrow streets in manic fashion; a fit of domestic strife allegedly climaxed with a hot iron thrust into his wife's face.

His ghosted autobiography, challengingly titled Hit Me For Six, was published in 1963, and in his introduction he proclaimed himself now to be "a proud family man, with a cosy home in Manchester and the job of professional for Bacup". Without question, Gilchrist, for those who batted against him or even watched from afar, was a fast bowler capable of chilling the blood. Having suffered from Parkinson's disease for some years he died in Jamaica, aged 66.