Andy Roberts took five in the match
© Getty Images

Match That Changed My Life

When you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Andy Roberts broke into the West Indies side by playing against them

In 1973, I played most of my cricket for the Hampshire 2nd XI. That was the year West Indies were touring England and they were to play a warm-up match against Hampshire.

I was bowling a lot faster than West Indies' fast bowlers and it was rumoured that the captain, Rohan Kanhai, was wondering where this guy Roberts came from. He asked the team management how come I was not playing for West Indies.

There was competition for places at Hampshire. I was fighting with David O'Sullivan for the overseas player's spot in the team throughout the season. O'Sullivan was playing in the first XI while I was predominantly in the second team. So that duel only made me hungrier. But I was never desperate. The more I played in England that year, the more practice I got. That way I became more confident in what I was doing and what I was capable of doing.

The previous year I missed a lot of cricket due to injury, including a warm-up game against the Australians touring the Caribbean, but I had played against an international team, the Indians, in 1971. So should I not have had the same belief against the West Indians? Not really. Because when you played against your own, you knew that there was an opportunity to be recognised. The important thing about that match was, I was playing against West Indies and the only way for me to get into the Test team was to bowl fast. And that is what I did.

It is not that I got plenty of wickets in that match. I only got one wicket across both innings. But I never judged myself on the number of wickets I took. I judged by how I performed.

I do not remember the specifics of that match, but I do remember hitting Steve Camacho, the West Indies opener, on the head. There were a lot of catches dropped between the wicketkeeper and slips. I also remember Roy Fredericks playing aggressively in both innings, but I fought aggression with aggression. In that innings Fredericks played the full range of his shots. Later in my career he refused to play the hook, because by then I had more pace and I had become a lot cleverer.

I became a better and a mature fast bowler after 1974 when I changed my bowling action to side-on. But that Hampshire match was the turning point. I learnt that while pace was an important weapon to have, the ultimate weapon was variety. When I went back to the Caribbean that season I made my debut for West Indies against England.

Andy Roberts played 47 Tests and 56 ODIs for West Indies between 1974 and 1983. He was speaking to Nagraj Gollapudi, an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo