Raw, aggressive, vicious, and mean, Colin Croft was the most unpredictable and unorthodox of the much-feared West Indian fast bowlers of the 1970s. Indeed, he was so ruthless that they said he would not hesitate to bounce his own grandmother.
Croft ran in from an unusual angle. For a while he remained invisible to the poor batsman, for he ran in from behind the umpire. He revealed himself moments before the release with a last-moment movement towards his left. He used the crease to great impact, and his action meant that he could angle the ball into the batsman. His huge frame, muscular shoulders, and chest-on action all contributed to his ferocious pace; the numbers told the story.
Croft’s 125 Test wickets came at 23.30, next to only Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, and Curtly Ambrose among West Indians with a 100-wicket cut-off. His strike rate of 49.3 was next to only Marshall’s 46.7. In ODIs his 30 wickets came at 20.67 and an economy of 3.47. At First-Class level, mostly for Guyana and Lancashire, his 428 wickets came at 25.
Croft made his Test debut alongside Joel Garner, and claimed 8 for 29 (still the best figures by a West Indian fast bowlers) in his second Test, against Pakistan at Port-of-Spain. He finished the series with 33 wickets at 20. A year later he took 4 for 15 and 4 for 47 in consecutive innings against Australia. He played a major part in the 1979 World Cup, with 8 wickets at 17.50 and conceding 3.08 an over. And later that year his 16 wickets at 24 helped West Indies win a series in Australia.
However, there were problems in New Zealand in the second leg of that tour. Unhappy with a decision, Croft peppered Richard Hadlee with bouncers, knocked the bails off at the non-striker’s end, and infamously shoulder-barged umpire Fred Goodall. Croft later denied allegations of the blow being deliberate.
There was a spectacular show in an ODI at Kingstown: West Indies had been bowled out for 127, but Croft, with 9-4-15-6 (10 of which came in one over), pulled off a 2-run win.
Unfortunately, he ended his career shortly afterwards when he left for South Africa on rebel tours. He never regretted, and famously said “I guess money is everybody’s God.”
Despite being kicked out of a Whites-only train compartment at Cape Town, Croft firmly believed that sport could help solve the Apartheid situation. When Croft returned to South Africa 15 years later, Raymond Roos (the man) and Willie van Zyl (the train conductor) apologised to him profusely.
An aspiring academic in his younger days, Croft qualified as a pilot and taught mathematics in a Berkshire school. He was one of the regular online cricket columnists in the 20th century, and was a part of the Test Match Special, team, where his commentary used to be as no-nonsense and matter-of-fact as his bowling.