Nearly 11 months and 77.2 overs after Kemar Roach dismissed Virat Kohli, the Indian captain remains the last Test wicket Roach he has taken. The Barbadian will be hurting no doubt considering he arrived in England, seven scalps short of becoming the ninth West Indies fast bowler to take 200 Test wickets.
Dry spells are nothing new to Roach, who turned 32 weeks after landing in England. Roach had gone 328 balls without a wicket from 2015 to his first wicket on his comeback in 2017 against England at Edgbaston on the 2017 tour. That had followed another long barren spell mid-2015 during England’s tour of West Indies when Roach went without a wicket for 300-plus deliveries.
How must Roach feel now? The Test series is six days old. Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel inspired West Indies in the Southampton victory while Roach’s fourth column remains vacant. A man used to making swift and big dents in the opposition has remained a bystander. It must hurt.
But part of Roach’s maturity has been his understanding of what he can and cannot do. So far this series Roach has delivered 61 overs, including 20 today, which were spread across five-and-a-bit spells. He might not have got a wicket, but that does not mean Roach has not created pressure.
In fact, as the series has progressed Roach’s control has become better. Unlike in Southampton, where the conditions were drier over the last three days, Roach found enough lateral movement throughout the overcast and cloudy day at Emirates Old Trafford. Maintaining the channel and pitching mostly on length, Roach has kept England’s batsmen on a tight leash, allowing no freedom to score.
The England top order was on its guard today as Roach moved the ball both ways while attacking the stumps and keeping the length fuller. Dom Sibley was lucky early on as he went chasing a full delivery in Roach’s fourth over, but the outside edge fell just short of Holder at second slip. Next ball Roach, leaping from his customary wide-of-the-crease angle, seamed the ball into Joe Root’s front pad.
Roach went up with both hands in appeal. But he wasn’t sure exactly about the impact and modestly admitted that to his captain, Holder, who was more excited and told Roach with three reviews, there was no harm to take a chance. Michael Gough, the on-field umpire was proved right, as the impact was well outside off.
Roach returned to his bowling mark with that big, wide smile intact, and carried on manfully doing his job.
Sibley and Stokes might have been disciplined throughout the day, but both would admit there were no freebies on offer especially from Roach. Sibley faced 67 deliveries of which 55 were dot balls (82.1 per cent). Stokes faced 29 deliveries and all were dot balls, as Roach, recognised by none lesser than Andy Roberts as the best bowler currently against left-hand batsmen, bowled a probing spell in the channel.
Late in the afternoon, in the middle of his final spell of the day, Roach squared up Sibley once again, but seamed the ball into the right-hander’s front leg. Roach this time was not shy to ask for Holder to review. Gough had ruled it as not out. It was another wasted review as Hawk-Eye predicted the ball would hit the top of the stumps. Umpire’s call denied Roach his first wicket of the series.
The next delivery was a no-ball. Roach was exhausted. His muscles were sore after barely getting three days to rest between the two Tests. Roach was desperate.
In his last over of the day, his 20th, Roach nearly got an outside edge off Stokes’ bat as the England vice-captain nearly played at an outswinger. Stokes nodded in appreciation. Roach smiled and turned back for the next delivery.
Fast bowling can be exhilarating many times. But there are also many occasions, like today, when even the best of best, and you can put Roach in that bracket based on his success since 2017, are made to grind.
Before the series, Roach told ESPNcricinfo that the one man he would want to sit down and talk cricket one day was Jimmy Anderson. The beauty of Anderson’s art, his experience and the way he can set up a batsman are reasons Roach wants to talk with the Englishman.
What would Anderson do if he were in Roach’s shoes now? While he might not possess the prized wrist of Anderson, Roach can do what the England great has done seemingly forever: continue pitching nagging lengths and lines, suffocate the batsmen, then set them up, leaving them high and dry.
Roach knows the gig. Strive and sweat he will. The dry spell will end one day. (Cricinfo)
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