Kemar Roach celebrates the dismissal of England’s Jonny Bairstow for 12.

A good number of the West Indies side defending the Wisden Trophy have career-best performances against England and though statistically Kemar Roach’s lie elsewhere there is no doubt in his mind he sits among them.

The six for 48 claimed as a young tearaway quick in his second Test against Bangladesh in 2009 sits top of his figures but his personal favourite? The English evisceration in Barbados last year that set up a memorable 2-1 home series victory.

England, bouncing on from a 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, believed they had kept the hosts to a serviceable first-innings 289 after losing the toss and by most definitions they probably had. Come tea on the second day, however, this notion sat in flames, their batsmen rolled for 77 in 30.2 sorry overs.

Roach, a bowler some feared might never fulfil that early promise owing to a rebellious body, whipped his Kensington Oval home into a nostalgia-filled frenzy that afternoon, his five for four in the space of 27 balls a display of laser-like accuracy during a collectively hostile assault from West Indies’ pace battery.

Now ready to lead the attack alongside Shannon Gabriel once more, the 32-year-old Bajan has shared a desire for a repeat come Wednesday’s first Test in Southampton and stressed how important this tour is to his teammates.

“That day in Barbados is top for me,” says Roach at the team’s training base at Old Trafford. “It was the best I have ever felt; my body was healthy, the ball was coming out perfectly, I was expressing myself. There was no added pressure, just total comfort. That’s how I got the best out of myself.

“We were relentless and it set the tone. Everyone put in and we’re looking to emulate that here. Taking the trophy back home to the Caribbean is the number-one goal. Winning in England would be perfect but it’s about defending the trophy. This is our biggest series, like the Ashes for us, so it’s about getting into that zone.”

Kemar Roach celebrates the dismissal of England’s Jonny Bairstow for 12 in the first Test in Bridgetown in January 2019. Photograph: Ricardo Mazalán/AP

Roach was rightly named man of the series against England, taking 18 wickets, in what was a rich reward for persistence; injuries to different parts of his 5ft 7in frame have led to him sitting out a third of his side’s Tests since his debut in 2009 yet he just keeps coming. The scorching pace that once put Ricky Ponting in hospital has had to make way for a smarter, more skilful approach around the 85mph mark but the results are there to see: since 2017 his Test wickets have cost 21 runs apiece.

A frightening car crash in 2014 is often cited as a before-and-after moment pace-wise but Roach, who escaped relatively unscathed, plays down the significance beyond the reality check it served to a young man perhaps living his life in the fast lane. “The car crash was nothing to do with my cricket,” he says. “That was just life, everyone has to come through obstacles. I was young and enjoying life. It was just about understanding what happened and doing what is right.

“I’ve always had self-belief. I’m not one to give up easily. There were dark moments with injuries, when you tell yourself it will be tough to get back, but you just keep putting the work in. They have set me back but I’m a much better bowler now than when I was young and fiery. I’ve put the work in, now it’s time to reap some rewards.”

There was a time early in Roach’s career when the pitches in the Caribbean did fast bowlers few favours but greater control by Cricket West Indies and a past switch to the Dukes ball for domestic and international cricket, has paid dividends. Where once Roach and others went into games thinking defensively, now there is greater incentive to attack. It is no coincidence that behind his established partnership with Gabriel sit a pack of talented youngsters battling for places.

Roach describes English conditions as a bowler’s paradise and cites a spell with Worcestershire in 2011, sharing the new ball with Alan Richardson, as influential, such that he is now passing on the tips gleaned to the squad’s rookies. “Alan is a good guy and taught me a lot,” Roach says. “I’m a big fan of the Dukes ball, it’s better for fast bowling. It has a higher seam and does more for longer than the Kookaburra. We’re now accustomed to it in the Caribbean but it’s about understanding what it does here in England, which is a bit more.

And the ban on applying saliva? “Yes, that’s the tough part but hopefully we can get some hot days and the guys can work up some sweat. Although it has to be a pretty warm day for us to sweat. But whatever the weather, we’ll find a way.”

It is an outlook that neatly sums up a career sitting on the verge of 200 Test wickets. But while Roach may have been forced to adapt and evolve over time, there has been a constant throughout: the meaty gold chain that hangs around his neck. “It’s the same chain throughout my career. Someone gave it to me – I’ll keep who confidential – but it has become a big part of me. I have become superstitious: if I’m on the field, I must wear it. The times I haven’t, I just haven’t felt the same.”

England’s batsmen, with memories of that Bridgetown blowout still fresh in their minds, may well be hoping it goes missing before the first Test.

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