March 29, 2000

The Jamaican Connection: Jimmy Adams and Courtney Walsh

The Zimbabweans, having just failed to win that 1st Test match in Trinidad & Tobago last week, a match which in itself was historic for many reasons, seem not to be controlling their own destiny with history while being in the Caribbean. They, and especially Henry Olonga, will be remembered by history forever as Courtney Walsh's 435th wicket.

The Jamaican crowd came in their thousands last weekend to see their beloved captain, Jimmy Adams, and especially Walsh, the venerable fast bowler, who has one of the country's highest honors, Order of Jamaica, and who has been dubbed "Ambassador at Large". Walsh has been playing since making his debut 1983 against Australia when he replaced me directly in the West Indies cricket team.

With 435 Test wickets now to his name, he now has broken the record for the most wickets ever taken in Test cricket. That past record, 434 wickets overall, was held by former Indian captain Kapil Dev Ramlal Nikhanj, simply known to the cricket world as "Kapil Dev".

Walsh has received US$1.00 for every ticket sold throughout . He has already received US$30,000 after the 1st three days of the 2nd Test. Taking his popularity and the exciting outcome of the last Test match in Trinidad & Tobago into consideration, he could be US$100,000 richer, and a record holder too, by the end of the game!

West Indian captain, Jimmy Adams, playing his first Test in his native Jamaica since being appointed to the position, made 101 not out in the 1st innings. This is a good comeback for a player whose very place in the team may have been in jeopardy not so long ago. While enjoying his team's come-back victory in the 1st Test, Adams seemed very concerned that his batsmen have not scored many runs lately. Without Brian Lara, the West Indian batting team looked very tread-bare for class and even clout in Trinidad & Tobago. However, Adams did seem to throw off the shackles of the all-absorbing presence of Lara, and actually looks like a good captain. He did well in T&T to win that Test, even though the fast bowlers really did most of the work. As a great critic of the West Indies recent batting, and especially Adams's efforts, his 8 1/2 hours of batting at least gave me hope for attitude, even if we do not yet see tremendous production from the rest of batsmen.

In a strange way, while all will eventually herald Walsh's record breaking achievement, especially for his ever present longevity and commitment, it could be tremendously ironic, perhaps even verging on being cruel, that his unique record breaking feat would not make him an automatic choice for selection in an "All West Indian cricket team."

In a very recent poll, conducted by the writer (Colin Croft) at the end of the last millennium, the four or five foremost recognized fast bowlers in the West Indies over their cricketing history, from 1928 to the present time, are Malcolm Marshall, who managed 376 wickets from 81 Tests; Michael Holding, with 254 wickets from 60 Tests; Wes Hall, with 192 wickets from 48 Tests; and either Joel Garner, with 259 wickets from 58 Tests; or Walsh's normal bowling partner in crime, punishment and destruction, Curtly Ambrose, who now also has 376 wickets from 90 Tests so far. It does seem that in most minds that dynamism, style, aggression and poise are more exciting and adrenalineproducing than just plan blue-collar hard work, longevity and just plain determination.

While I am one who truly believes in hard work to be perfect in sports, I also think that in the "real" world, Walsh would probably be about the sixth or seventh consideration overall for selection to that team. My own selections would be Wes Hall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and either Curtly Ambrose, or his compatriot Antiguan, Andy Roberts, who got 202 wickets from 47 Tests. Life was not meant to be easy. Sometimes, things are tough.

After bowling in this 2nd Test, Walsh had already bowled 25186 legal deliveries in Test cricket. He is now in his 114th Test. Having played for Gloucester for about 13 years, he probably bowled three times that number in County Cricket, not to mention playing for Jamaica too while all of this was transpiring. At the minimum, Walsh would have bowled about 125,000 deliveries in professional cricket. Had he been paid US$10 for every delivery, as some baseball pitchers get for their work in the Major Leagues in the USA, Walsh would probably have already retired rich.

Considering all of this, with the understanding that a fast bowler's run-up is about 20-25 meters, Courtney Walsh would have run the astounding distance of a minimum of 2,500,000 meters while bowling fast for some team or other professionally. Yet, Walsh has been a marvel in that he was seldom injured enough, during his career, to rule him out of many games.

Another irony, though, is that over the years, Walsh has been dropped at least 13 times by those "experts" who normally choose the West Indies cricket teams, the selectors. That just goes to show that even "experts", perhaps because they are so-called "experts", can also be wrong.

Down to the very last bone, though, Courtney Walsh is humble, determined and the ultimate team man.