When former teammates describe Melford Roach, they speak in glowing terms, sounding more like admiring fans rather than contemporaries. Their praise of the former fast bowler is effusive. “Graceful” and “handsome” and “genius” are among the adjectives uttered.
Roach played only five years for the Montserrat cricket team, but his impact was considerable. Most athletes’ professional careers are usually just getting under way at age 23. By that time Roach had already earned legendary status in Montserrat.
And one particular match in 1965 helped to cement his legacy.
Roach was born in 1943 in St. Patrick’s Village in southern Montserrat. His family lived in the Sea View area, then later moved to a housing scheme in Semper Piece, within eyeshot of the infamous Soufriere Hills volcano. Roach’s father, Tommy Roach, was a medium-pace bowler and aggressive batsman in the 1940s for a local club team called Spitfire.
Melford Roach grew up playing cricket on the sloping field at St. Patrick’s Primary School. He also played for the Montserrat Secondary School and later the Police team. He was a genuine fast bowler with a fluid gait, similar to West Indies legend Michael Holding. Those who played with and against him said Roach’s smooth run-up, followed by his high-arching delivery, was a graceful sight to behold.
But Roach wasn’t just about style. He was also lightning-quick.
“When you’re batting against Melford he twists the bat in your hand,” said former teammate John Wilson, describing the velocity of Roach’s deliveries.
Roach’s most memorable moment for Montserrat, however, did not occur with the ball. It was with a bat . . . specifically a bat he borrowed from teammate Roosevelt “Cubby” Jemmotte.
‘EVERY MAN HAS HIS DAY’
On Monday, June 21, 1965 – eight days before his 22nd birthday – Roach and the Montserrat team played in the Leeward Islands tournament at the Antigua Recreation Ground. In those days the event was played at one venue. There were two semifinal matches, with the winners playing for the Hesketh Bell Shield. In 1965, the semifinal matchups were Montserrat vs. St. Kitts and Antigua vs. Nevis.
Montserrat won the toss and batted first. Captain Frank Edwards top-scored with 48 runs but Montserrat managed only a modest score of 131 all out. St. Kitts easily surpassed that score and then set out to bowl out Montserrat a second time for the outright victory.
Montserrat went to bat at 4:50 p.m. Tuesday (June 22). The boys from the Emerald Isle got off to an awful 13 for 3 start as their top three batsmen – Bennette Roach, Peter Cabey and Wilson – all went cheaply. Melford Roach came to bat at 5:36 p.m., joining Edwards at the crease. He was apparently moved up in the lineup to serve as a nightwatchman. Fast bowlers normally bat low in the lineup and are often poor batsmen. But Roach was no slouch with the bat.
Speaking of bats, in those days the team did not provide players with them. Cricketers purchased their own bats. Some even had to share. Roach owned his own bat, but he really liked the brand-new one that teammate Jemmotte brought along. It was purchased in Montserrat from businessman John Wade of Wade Inn fame and was emblazoned with an autograph by West Indies star batsman Rohan Kanhai.
“He asked me to borrow the bat and I gave it to him,” Jemmotte said.
Once in the crease, Roach started slowly and reached 10 not out when play ended for the day with Montserrat on 29 for 3.
The following morning (Wednesday, June 23), the St. Kitts team came out with the intention of finishing off Montserrat quickly. Roach had other plans. He refused to see Montserrat endure an embarrassing defeat. He unleashed on the St. Kitts bowlers, which included experienced pacemen Clement Hicks and Vincent Demming and heralded spin bowlers Leroy Coury and Edgar Gilbert.
“He just went to town on them,” said Jemmotte, still sounding amazed 55 years later. “He was blazing them. It was an innings of class.”
Wilson added: “He wasn’t scratching and pushing. He was hitting the ball to every part of the field.”
As partners fell around him, Roach continued to flourish. He got solid support from Vendol Moore, a customary opener who batted lower in the lineup that day due to an injury. Moore scored 34 as he and Roach posted a 100-run partnership. Fast bowler David Brandt added 19.
Roach finished with 15 boundaries. He scored his first 50 in 33 balls, his second 50 in 42 balls and his final 51 in 40 balls. His 151 runs in 115 balls gave him a strike rate of 131 – excellent in any format of cricket.
“He clubbed them all over the place,” said Bennette Roach, Melford’s cousin and Montserrat’s opening batsman that day. “I wasn’t surprised at all. Melford was a student of cricket. Gilbert and Coury were killers, but none of St. Kitts’ bowlers gave Melford a problem.”
Montserrat declared at 266 for 9 when Brandt was dismissed and eventually salvaged a draw. But St. Kitts advanced to the championship match based on a better first-innings score.
Roach’s 151 was the highest score at that time by a Montserrat player since the island began competing in the Leewards tournament in 1913. It was only the second century by a Montserratian following Kingsley Rock’s 125 against Nevis in 1959.
COMING TO AMERICA
In early March of 1966, Roach was selected for a Combined Islands match against Guyana in the Shell Shield tournament at Warner Park in St. Kitts. He bowled 25 overs overall and took four wickets for 97 runs. He didn’t play for Montserrat that summer. He migrated to the United States at age 23, leaving many to wonder what could have been.
“There’s no question in my mind that if he remained he would have made the West Indies team,” Wilson said.
After migrating to New York, Roach played for several local teams for more than a decade. He played in a league that held matches at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. He played in Staten Island, Connecticut and Boston. He also played for the official U.S. cricket team.
But the pinnacle of his career will always be the undefeated 151 against St. Kitts.
Off the field, Roach furthered his education when he moved to the U.S., earning a Master’s Degree in Business from Baruch College in New York City. He worked for many years with Pitney Bowes, a technology company that provides mailing and shipping services.
A year before his death in 2015, Roach posted a message on Facebook to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his 151 not out. Instead of praising himself, he gave credit to teammates. His post stated in part:
“Something remains indelible on my mind 50 years ago. After [trailing by] 150 runs in our match against St. Kitts in Antigua, we were able to avoid another defeat. We were able to amass 266 runs, of which, Moore contributed 30-odd . Brandt made his highest score ever, 19 runs. I was left not out 151. Must mention my friend Jemmotte who ran for an injured Moore. I cannot forget those guys who stood with me as we fought with great Montserratian pride. I think of them often.”
And they still think about him.
Montserrat spin bowler David Corbett, who had a brief partnership with Roach in that memorable innings, summed it up perfectly.
“Every man has his day,” Corbett declared. “That was his day.”
Top scores by Montserrat playerA look at highest scores by a Montserrat cricketer in the Leeward Islands tournament:
|277||McPherson Meade||Combined V.I.||2005|
|235||Zhuan Sweeney||St. Kitts||2004|
|221||McPherson Meade||St. Kitts||2003|
|157||Sylvester "Nul" Greenaway||Antigua||1975|
|154||Fitzroy Buffonge||St. Kitts||1992|
|151*||Melford Roach||St. Kitts||1965|