Kemar Roach’s return to competitive cricket last weekend after an absence of seven months because of a shoulder injury was most refreshing and indeed encouraging news for the West Indies team with the three-Test series against New Zealand around the corner.
The gifted, 25-year-old fast bowler played for his cherished club CGI Maple, who beat BRC BCL by eight wickets in the fifth and last preliminary round of the BCA Sagicor General Twenty20 championship at Blenheim “A” on Saturday. He bowled four overs on the trot with the new ball and later expressed optimism of featuring in the series against the Black Caps, which starts on June 8.
Roach is a special talent, who has shown his mettle at the highest level after making his Test debut in 2009.
One can understand his anxiety to get back into the international arena while paying close attention to the build-up without being carried away.
He, himself, put it context when he said: “I am glad to be back on the field playing for Maple and I am looking forward to representing the West Indies again as soon as possible with my focus on the Test series against New Zealand in a few weeks.”
Roach, however, conceded that he was not fully fit but was keen on playing a couple more local club matches in his quest to become sharper. That opportunity should not be denied.
“I hit some good areas and the pace was definitely up. I spoke with the captain and he said he had a plan. He asked me if I wanted to bowl four overs in succession and I told him I wouldn’t mind to get the body working again. The pace is still there but I am not a hundred per cent yet. I think the more I bowl, the better I will become.
“I have really missed playing. Seven months out of cricket is a long time and now I am at the point where I can play again, I want to be able to represent Maple, Barbados and West Indies.
“I am very confident that once I get some more sessions in and some strength work, I will be raring to go for the first Test against New Zealand, if selected,” he said.
It was not only a matter of hearing from Roach on how he felt but also some observers and a couple of his teammates including veteran Pedro Agard, who reported that he looked the part with genuine pace.
Now Roach is among the West Indies squad currently taking part in a camp at the 3Ws Oval in preparation for the series against New Zealand. It affords him an opportunity to work on areas, which require fine-tuning, and you get the feeling that he is oozing to prove a point.
When one reflects on the background of his injury and the process which followed during rehabilitation, it is understandable why he is so anxious to play soon again.
Ironically, it was last October 13 while representing Maple against Sagicor Life UWI in the final of the Sagicor General T20 tournament at Kensington Oval that he injured his shoulder while fielding and was unable to bowl again in the match after sending down just one over.
Roach then travelled with the West Indies to Florida for a one-week Elite team visit before their tour of India, but was forced to return home in the second week of November following the first Test for what was termed “on-going management and subsequent physical rehabilitation”.
C.J. Clarke, the West Indies team physiotherapist had described the injury as “uncommon among cricketers”.
And West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron seemed baffled by the sequence of events relating to the injury, stating that there would be an investigation, while calling for “responsibility and accountability”.
For all of that, the bottom line was that Roach underwent surgery in Jamaica in November 22 and then gradually started his rehabilitation including gym and physiotherapy work.
“After a surgery like this, it is not going to be a hundred per cent but I am definitely fit enough to play any length of cricket, whether it be a Test, four-day, one-day or a T20 match,” he said after the game last Saturday.
Those are words of confidence.
From the middle of April, Roach had bowling sessions in the nets at Kensington Oval, working with the likes of BCA coach Vasbert Drakes and West Indies team coach Ottis Gibson.
His enthusiasm to get back into competitive cricket has been further helped by net practice at Maple under the guidance of club-mate Corey Collymore, who like Gibson and Drakes is a former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler.
Roach is therefore fortunate to have such persons around him at this time and the fact that yet another former Barbados and West Indies pacer, Henderson Bryan, is the Maple coach should add to his cause.
While Roach wants to represent Maple for the rest of the Sagicor General T20 competition with their next match on Monday against YMPC in the quarter-finals at Kensington – the tournament ends June 1 – it would be a test for the West Indies team management as well.
At this stage, Roach needs to be playing competitively once the occasion presents itself. Net practice is fine but there is nothing like expressing yourself in the middle. Some would argue that a T20 game is not the best guide in relation to what is required for a Test series, but it could only help in rebuilding his rhythm and confidence ahead of the first match in Jamaica.
When compared with the other fast bowlers who are in contention for a place in the West Indies team, Roach is the most outstanding. In 23 Tests, he has 85 wickets at 27.71 runs each. He possesses key assets including his ability to produce fiery spells and also swing the ball.
Unless there are plans to play a couple warm-up matches during the camp, there should be no harm on the part of the West Indies selectors and team management in allowing Roach to represent Maple for the rest of the Sagicor General T20 championship.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).
Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Midwicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)