Kemar Roach might not be the best bowler in Test cricket currently. He might not have the finest numbers with the ball. But, he is surely West Indies’ most important bowler in whites at the moment.
His ability to exploit the conditions with diligence is what makes him a quality bowler. The 33-years old has an aptitude for adapting himself according to the situation – something that defines his career. Roach has amended himself several times in different stages.
Kemar Roach entered into international cricket on a high note – thanks to his fiery pace and movement through the air. But, the injuries reduced his pace and wicket-taking zip. He went through a poor phase after making a phenomenal start to his career.
He was dropped from the national squad in 2015, toiled in the domestic circuit and made slight adjustments to his bowling. Since then, he has continued rising through the ranks, going from strength to strength and doing enough to be mentioned in the same breath as some of world cricket’s best.
The Rise in Test Cricket
In domestic cricket, he tweaked his length and started bowling a tad fuller. Since his speed went down after injuries, changing length was the first thing he did. This worked wonders for him, and he started flourishing again.
Since 2019, Kemar Roach has taken 65 wickets at an excellent average of 23.07 in the Tests. He snares around 22.11% of team wickets, the highest by a Caribbean bowler. A difference of more than 5% between him and the next best (Jason Holder) is quite significant, given the quality in the West Indies pace department.
The ability to extract seam movement off the deck makes him lethal, especially with the Dukes ball. His natural angle makes the ball nip in with an angle - making life difficult for the batsmen. If the ball is on the good length area, it hits the pads steadily and takes the edge if landed on the short of good length area.
Genuine Wicket Taker
There is a distinction between being a wicket-taker and a genuine wicket-taker. A genuine wicket-taker can be defined as someone who dismisses the batsmen and all-rounders of the opponent's team regularly instead of tail-enders.
Despite taking double the number of wickets, Kemar Roach has an almost equal percentage as Sam Curran. Since 2019, he has grabbed the third-most number of wickets (52) at 25 runs apiece. Kemar Roach doesn't enable the batsmen to settle at the crease and starts wreaking havoc right from the first ball.
Around 58.4% of his wickets are of the batsmen yet to settle down at the crease (less than 10 runs in the innings) in the aforementioned period. His new balls exploits have been quite fruitful for the West Indies, as he provides the much-required early breakthroughs. In the first 20 overs, he is the third-highest wicket-taker (21) and bowls more than 82% of dot balls since 2019.
Performance At Home
One could argue that he is a home track bully based on his ridiculously good numbers at home. But being terrific in home conditions doesn't make a bowler or his skills inferior to others. Let's have a look at the performance of the bowlers in their own backyard.
While Kyle Jamieson is going through his dream start, Ravichandran Ashwin and Kemar Roach have almost identical numbers. Since 2019, Roach has taken the third joint-most (53) number of wickets at home. He has the third-best, or say joint second-best, bowling average (18.47) in this period.
Roach troubled India's top-order frequently in the two-match Test series in 2019. The likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, Ajinkya Rahane and others were his victims.
The pacer uses the width of the crease and generates an unusual angle from there. Even if there is only a hint of movement on offer, he has managed to extract that to stay on top. He has the wobble seam delivery in his armoury too, which is one of the most dangerous weapons with the Dukes ball.
West Indies' quality pace attack has presented some of the finest bowling performances. As such, they have managed to hand some astonishing defeats to the top-quality sides of late. Kemar Roach has been instrumental in quite a few of them as well.
In the eight bilateral series, Kemar Roach has been the leading wicket-taker for his team in five. Remember The Wisden Trophy, 2018/19, where he was at his threatening best against the English batsmen? Roach bowled the match-winning spells in the first two Tests and helped his team register a memorable series win over England.
Roach was literally unplayable as he ended the series with 18 wickets at a staggering bowling average and strike rate of 13.88 and 32.2 respectively.
In The Wisden Trophy, 2020, he became the ninth Caribbean bowler to take 200 wickets in red-ball cricket. Roach was also the first pacer to reach this milestone in 26 years for the Men in Maroon. He has 231 wickets to his name and needs five more wickets to surpass Sir Garry Sobers in the all-time leading wicket-takers chart for West Indies in Test cricket.
Roach is at that stage of his career where he knows his game quite well. If he can prevent himself from getting injured regularly, sneaking into the pantheon of West Indian greats with the red ball won't be completely out of his grasp.