Sam Roberts is delighted to be back at Bexhill Cricket Club for the 2016 campaign.
Having achieved great things as a player at the club 1998 and 2002, the Texas-based Australian has returned to The Polegrove as club coach this summer.
“I’m very fond of the place and the people here,” he said. “I enjoyed the club and the people so much that every two or three years I’ve come back. And any time I came to England I tried to sneak in a week or two in Bexhill.
“Last year I came back for the first time in a few years and spoke to a number of people, one of whom was Ian Cox, who indicated that last year was going to be his final season as coach.
“I then spoke with members of the committee and, more importantly, my wife to see if there was any potential in coming over to enjoy at least one more season, and hopefully a number of seasons, as Bexhill coach and we managed to make that happen.”
As well as aiding Bexhill’s fortunes on the field, Roberts is seeking to help generate funds and increase membership for the club off the field.
“My job is twofold,” he continued. “Certainly to coach the club - and predominantly the first team - to ensure we’re as competitive as possible, and instil some of the values and experiences I’ve picked up over many years in cricket, particularly in Australia.
“The other is to use some of my professional background to help grow the club in numbers and also finances. I’ve worked in financial planning and I’m hoping that I can drive some fundraising activities, increase membership within the club and ensure we’re raising money through the bar etc. I’ve got a lot of experience cricket-wise and experience professionally which should help the club.”
Roberts grew up in Tasmania, which is where he began his career in adult first grade cricket. At the age of 22 he moved to Sydney and spent 17 years playing first grade cricket for a strong club called Mosman.
During that time he played with and against some amazing cricketers. Brett and Shane Lee played for Mosman, former England captain Andrew Strauss had two seasons with the club, and ex-Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and former West Indies wicketkeeeper Junior Murray also spent time there.
In more recent years, Roberts, now 42, has played against current Australia captain Steve Smith, and bowled to and dismissed Australia top order batsmen David Warner and Usman Khawaja.
When Roberts first came to Bexhill, he was mainly used as a slow left-arm bowler and middle order batsman in a strong side featuring the likes of Ian Cox, Matthew Blackman, Peter King and Andrew Hodd. He took 36 wickets and scored more than 300 runs.
Four years later, Roberts captained a very young, inexperienced team and enjoyed an outstanding season. He carried the batting, making 821 runs at an average of 74.64 (the second highest run total in the club’s Sussex League history behind Dave Lowery’s 895 in 2009) and took 51 wickets at an average of 17.51, making him the only bowler to have taken 50 league wickets in a season for Bexhill. He would open the bowling with left-arm seamers before switching to spin.
Prior to this season, Roberts had played in 33 matches for Bexhill, scoring 1,156 runs in 30 innings at an average of 46.24 with two hundreds and 10 fifties, and a highest score of 109.
He had bowled 592 overs, 149 of which were maidens, and took 93 wickets at 17.70. He picked up five wickets on seven occasions with a best return of 6-67.
Roberts was - and still is - a magnificent fielder in any postion with a tremendous arm, and held 21 catches.
Club stalwart Jeff Chinn said: “He is without doubt in my mind the best all-round overseas player we have had (I have seen them all since we joined the league in 1978).
“He would have scored a lot more runs had he batted more in 1998. He has always been an aggressive cricketer and has been to known to tell the opposition the way home, has caused many umpires to have a chat with me about his behaviour on the pitch, but as soon as the game was over he would be the first at the bar buying the opposition and umpires drinks.”
Roberts has followed the club’s progress ever since his second season at The Polegrove and feels now is the time for Bexhill’s young side to come of age.
“Malcolm Johnson I coached as a 12-year-old in 2002 and it’s nice how he’s come on,” he added. “And you could tell straight away Shawn (Johnson) was a talent.
“There’s an awful lot of talent and promise. I think the reason I wanted to get involved is because I think they’ve reached a point now where they can no longer us inexperience or potential as an excuse for mediocrity.
“They’re old enough now and they should be dominating the competition. There’s enough ability there to win the competition; it’s just whether we get the results out of them. Hopefully I can play a small part in extracting that from them.
“I’m constantly throwing balls and shouting at them. I want to demand more from them and I want them to demand more from themselves. I want them to get the best out of themselves.”
Roberts has come to Bexhill for the summer with his wife Amy, who he met purely by chance while visiting his parents in Tasmania. Amy was travelling at the time and followed Roberts to Sydney for a year before they moved to her homeland in the United States.
With cricket having played such a big part in his life, how did Roberts find moving to a place where the sport isn’t played?
“I’m a passionate traveller and I’ve always had the philosophy of trying to embrace wherever I live and move to, and get involved in the community,” he said. “In America it’s been through work and my wife is very comfortable there.
“For the first 12 months I didn’t really miss cricket because I’ve been saturated with it since a young age. But after that I really started to pine for it. Even though my playing days are pretty much over, I like to keep my eye in - it’s something I’m passionate about.”
Over the last two-and-a-half years the couple have run an organic meal planning service in Texas called Field to Meal. Local farmers supply them with the raw ingredients, which they then package into a selection of healthy, home-cooked meals.
“I need to stress that Amy is very much the creative force behind the business,” Roberts said. “She comes up with the recipes and she’s worked phenomenally hard at the business the last couple of years. It’s going well enough that we’ve got the luxury of employing some really good people while we’re away.
“Amy’s been all over the world and this gives her the chance to live in a country she’s not spent a great deal of time in. We’re loving it here. We’re heavily involved and Amy’s been really embraced by the people at the club.”
Although here in primarily a coaching capacity, Roberts has proven on a couple of occasions already this summer that he’s still a more than handy player.
He took five wickets as the first team began its Sussex Premier League campaign with a victory at Billingshurst, and last weekend he scored an unbeaten 50 off just 38 balls and took three wickets for the seconds against Horsham.
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