Timeless Walsh leaves team-mates in shade (24 December 1998)

24 December 1998

Timeless Walsh leaves team-mates in shade

By Geoffrey Dean in Durban

ONE West Indian who will be tucking into his Christmas lunch tomorrow with his mind uncluttered by fear of failure in the upcoming Boxing Day Test is Courtney Walsh.

While all of his team-mates bar Curtly Ambrose under-performed wretchedly in the first two Tests against South Africa, the timeless Jamaican, now 36, continues to reel off top-class over after over, spell after spell, return after return. Extraordinary is an epithet that befits him.

Aristotle's adage "master yourself and master the world" might have been written for Walsh. He long ago took control of himself and, in statistical terms at least, he is on the verge of conquering the world.

With 389 Test victims, Walsh is well within range of Kapil Dev's world record of 434. At his career strike-rate of almost four wickets per Test, another dozen or so matches should suffice. The question is, has he got the legs?

The West Indies physiotherapist since the Packer years, the Australian Dennis Waight, thinks so. "I'd say Cuddy [as his team-mates know him] has easily another two years of Test cricket left in him."

Considering that Richard Hadlee played for New Zealand until he was 38, it seems plausible that Walsh, one of the least prone to injury of all fast bowlers, could continue until April 2000, by which time the West Indies will have contested a further 16 Tests.

The catch, of course, is whether Walsh wants to carry on that long. He suggests that this will be his last tour, but then he has been saying that for several years.

Although the next West Indies tour is to Pakistan, just two years after their last there when a 3-0 whitewash brought the curtain down on Walsh's captaincy, few observers in the Caribbean believe that he is ready to retire.

It would appear that he is keen to carry on playing as long as he can maintain the form he has embraced since his Test debut in 1984. After all, the West Indies in their current disarray have never needed him more.

In addition, his release by Gloucestershire last week may give him the increased recovery time that even he increasingly needs. His sacking was like a knife in the back, he says, and another county may yet benefit.

Waight talks of Walsh as a freak in fitness terms. "There will never be another one like Cuddy, that's for sure," Waight asserts. "Not one who's been with a county for so many years, played more than 100 Tests [104 to be exact] as well as Lord knows how many one-day internationals. It's amazing but ever since his Test debut I've hardly touched him. He just gets back to the dressing room, picks up his ice packs and puts them on to his knees, his back or wherever. Occasionally, if he's got some stiffness somewhere, he'll ask me to massage it to get rid of it, but that's about it."

Ankle and knee problems restricted Walsh to 14 overs in the warm-up games before the first Test, in which he returned typically good match figures of seven for 111 from 46 overs. There was plenty of the old aggression and pace on the sort of slow, low pitch on which he has flogged away so uncomplainingly throughout his career. Seven more wickets followed in the second Test when he and Ambrose bowled so well, but with minimal support from the back-up seamers and none at all from the batsmen.

The South Africans are still wary of Walsh and Ambrose. Hansie Cronje describes them as still the best opening attack in the world. There might well be more than a hint of diplomacy behind that compliment, but the two most obvious pretenders, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, still between them have less than half the 700-plus the two West Indians share. That ratio will change but the image of Walsh - defiant, determined, dedicated, dangerous - never will.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)