A very fast and aggressive bowler, Roy Gilchrist's career in top-class cricket was sadly brief, terminated in a startling manner when he was sent home from the West Indies tour of India in 1959 for disciplinary reasons.
Gilchrist was a small man, with short legs and long arms, but generated tremendous pace. It is said that his first ball in Test cricket (against England at Edgbaston in 1957) bounced over the head of both batsman and 'keeper, and rebounded 30 yards onto the field from the sightscreen. Although this should be looked upon more as legend than fact (only 3 byes appear in the scorecard of that innings), there is little doubt that he was one of the fastest and most hostile bowlers of his generation.
Gilchrist had made his debut for Jamaica after representing Wembley in the Senior Cup in 1956, and based on his perfomances there was selected for the 1957 tour of England. He had a considerable temper, and combined with a particularly unpleasant bouncer made him a bowler most batsmen would rather not face. Wisden described him as "menacing by virtue of his genuine pace and his ability to produce a bouncer as venomous as any sent down by the opposition".
He made a considerable impression in England, despite incurring an injury part-way through the tour, taking ten wickets in four Tests. He was an automatic choice for the home series against Pakistan the following season. Although erratic and expensive at times his pace was most effective, taking 21 wickets in the series. He probably contributed to wickets falling at the other end, as the Pakistani batsmen were clearly unsettled by his pace, and several showed no inclination to face him. A year later he toured India, forming an intimidating opening partnership with Wes Hall. His finest performance was in the Third Test where he took 3/18 and 6/55 as part of a massive West Indies win.
Throughout the tour he had not seen eye-to-eye with the captain, Gerry Alexander - Gilchrist was something of a rough and ready character, and needed careful handling. Matters came to a head in the final match of the tour against North Zone.
Baited by the opposition's captain, Gilchrist let fly a sequence of very fast bouncers, interspersed with a beamer. Alexander told Gilchrist he would bowl no more in the match, and following a meeting of the selection committee he was sent home rather than continue on for the Pakistan leg of the tour. He was never selected to play for the West Indies again - he was just 24.
Michael Manley, in his History of West Indies Cricket, called Gilchrist's loss a tragedy, saying however that "Gilchrist was difficult, insufferably so at times. He was also potentially, a very great bowler". The loss to West Indies cricket was great, and the effect on a young man's career was tragic indeed; many speculated whether a captain such as Worrell or Lloyd would have handled him better.
Gilchrist continued in cricket for years afterwards, making a career for himself in the Lancashire Leagues with Bacup, taking a record 100 wickets for them in 1963, later playing for Middleton, Great Chell, Lowerhouse, Crompton and East Bierly. Somewhat unusually he played his last first-class matches for Hyderabad in 1962/63, part of an experiment by which the Indian authorities invited four West Indies pacers to take part in their domestic cricket in order to improve the Indian batsmen's technique against fast bowling.
He lived in England for 26 years before returning to his native Jamaica in 1985.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Dave Liverman)
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