Black History Month: Andy Roberts

Hampshire Cricket – courtesy of Club Historian Dave Allen – is marking Black History Month this October by celebrating and honouring the contributions of some of the best players to ever represent the Club

Anderson Montgomery 'ANDY' ROBERTS (1973-1978)
Born 29 January 1951, Urlings Village Antigua

Right Handed Lower Order Batter, Right Arm Fast Bowler

58 First-Class Matches, County Cap 1974
Batting: 583 runs, average 13.88
Highest Score 39 v Northamptonshire at Bournemouth 1975
Bowling: 244 wickets, average 16.70, 13 five-fors
Best Bowling Innings 8-47 v Glamorgan at Cardiff 1974
Catches: 11

70 Limited Overs Matches
Bowling: 104 wickets, average 13.65, One five-for
Best Bowling 5-13 v Sussex at Hove 1974
Catches: 10

For the first 25 years after cricket in England resumed in 1946, the West Indies had an up-and-down record against England. After they won a Test in England for the first time in 1950, they lost a home series in 1953/4 another in 1959/60 and in between, also lost the 1957 series in England.

They won the two Test series in England in 1963 & 1966 but lost at home in 1967/8 and then lost the 1969 series in England. But after West Indies won the series in England in 1973, they would not lose another series against them for 31 years – successes built on some wonderful batsmen, not least Viv Richards and openers Greenidge and Haynes but perhaps even more their fearsome succession of fast bowlers. Keith Boyce was the leading bowler in 1973 but three years later they unleashed the first quartet of Vanburn Holder, Wayne Daniel and in Tests the joint leading wicket-takers with 28 each, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts.

Andy Roberts was born and grew up in Antigua and was approaching his 19th birthday when he first bowled for Leeward Islands against Winward Islands at Castries in January 1970, taking 4-50 on first-class debut. His side lost but after playing in the same fixture twelve months later (4-45 & 1-29) he found himself in a Combined Islands side playing Barbados where his four match wickets included Garry Sobers and Keith Boyce. Up to January 1972 he played in a number of first-class Shell Shield and tourist matches before he and his young team-mate Viv Richards were sent to England for coaching at the south London cricket school run by the former England and Surrey bowler Alf Gover.

While they were there, word reached a number of counties and Hampshire’s captain and Assistant Secretary Richard Gilliat, looking to boost his pace attack, invited Roberts for a trial the following year. Roberts returned home to play in the 1973 Shell Shield season but after just one match, suffered a bad injury which threatened his career. He recovered however and came to Hampshire to spend a recently reduced requirement of one year qualifying by residence. He made his debut for Hampshire 2nd XI against Kent 2nd XI at Andover in mid-May 1973 and while 2-85 in the match was a modest return, his county career had begun.

While qualifying, Andy Roberts played in 2nd XI and Club & Ground games. In the 2nd XI Championship he was the leading wicket-taker with 40 at 18.65 and Coach Geoff Keith wrote in the Hampshire Handbook “he appears to be a bowler of genuine pace, even off a short run.” In the limited-overs matches, then known as the Under-25 Competition Keith added his “genuine pace … proved formidable even for the most experienced opposition to cope with.”

While he could not play in the County Championship in 1973 he did make his Hampshire first-class debut against the West Indies tourists at Southampton. He must have hoped to impress his fellow countrymen but took 0-63 as centuries by Fredericks and Kanhai enabled West Indies to declare on 354-3. He did manage the wicket of David Murray in the second innings and a short ball that injured opener Steve Camachao put the batter out of the tour but Hampshire were well beaten and Roberts went back to the 2nd XI. That match gave little indication of his potential and when New Zealand spinner David O’Sullivan bowled Hampshire to the title in the last weeks of 1973 the Committee were faced with a difficult choice; with Roberts now qualified (and Greenidge still essentially ‘English) they had to pick either O’Sullivan or the as yet unproven Roberts as their second overseas player alongside Barry Richards. They chose Roberts.

In the winter of 1973/4 he returned home, played in four Shell Shield matches and also in two games against the England tourists – still travelling abroad as MCC. In the first he dismissed Dennis Amiss and John Jameson and in the second, Amiss, Fletcher, Knott and Birkenshaw (4-75) and Bob Taylor in the second innings. A fortnight later he made his Test Match debut against England in Barbados and his three wickets in the drawn game were again Amiss and Jameson plus wicketkeeper Bob Taylor. For West Indies, Lawrence Rowe scored 302 in a total of 596-8 declared.

That match ended on 11 March in the heat of Barbados and about six weeks later he played at Lord’s for the first time in freezing spring weather, although on the first day he could enjoy the warmth of the dressing room as Barry Richards scored a magnificent 189 for Hampshire, the Champion County in the then annual match against MCC. Roberts bowled in the evening as MCC posted 56-0 but on the next day he took four wickets before MCC declared 139 behind. Hampshire declared in turn setting a target of just 241 but Roberts did not bowl as they finished 18 short of victory with six wickets down.

He was back at Lord’s one week later as the Champions, unbeaten through 1973, launched their 1974 season with a defeat against Middlesex - Roberts 4-143 in the match and his was one of three ‘ducks’ as the last four wickets went for seven runs. It was however a temporary blip as the Hampshire side of 1974 seemed stronger than the title-winning team with the addition of Roberts who was simply fearsome and at times unplayable; in 1974 he probably bowled faster than anyone else before or since, for the county. In what was surely the unluckiest season in their history, the rain consigned Hampshire to runners-up by just two points, but in that season Roberts took 119 wickets at just 13.62, six times taking five or more in an innings although ironically his best of 8-47 at Cardiff, came in what can now be seen as a crucial late season, improbable defeat. He also took 7-45 at Hove, while his match figures of 9-39 v Kent at Basingstoke, included putting Colin Cowdrey out of the game. For his performances in 1974, he was nominated as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year.

In 1975, and again in 1979, he was in the West Indies sides that won the first two World Cups, and in 1976 he toured England (28 Test wickets at 19.17), so there were fewer Championship matches after 1974, while in 1975 he missed the conclusion to Hampshire’s season when with him present they might have won another Championship although they did win the Sunday League, their first limited overs success. He did nonetheless finished top of the national bowling averages in 1975 as he had in 1974.

In 1977, his first-class average was still below 20 but there were fewer wickets, and during the unrest caused by World Series cricket he became disenchanted with county cricket. In July 1978, as Barry Richards announced his retirement from Hampshire, Andy Roberts asked to take a break, but the request was refused, so he too left the county mid-way through the season when they would win their second Sunday League title. From 1977-1979, he participated in Australia’s World Series Cricket playing in 13 of the unofficial ‘Tests’ (50 wickets at around 14 each) and 30 ODIs (47 wickets at 15.65). From 1981-1984 he played county cricket for Leicestershire before retiring from all major cricket age 33 in 1984.

For Hampshire his 244 first-class wickets in just 58 games came at a career average of 16.70, the lowest by any regular bowler in the county’s history, in addition he took 202 Test wickets for the West Indies in just 47 games and he also took 87 wickets in ODIs in 56 matches at the remarkable economy rate of just 3.40 runs per over. Andy Roberts grew up in a fishing family and after retiring he established his own fishing business in Antigua while he was for many years the groundsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground. In February 2014, he was knighted by the Antiguan Barbudan Government.

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