January 3, 2001

Why we should all pay homage to Courtney Andrew Walsh

At about 11.40am on Wednesday, the second day of the final Test between Australia and the West Indies, Brian Lara took a sharp catch, moving to his right, from the edge of Matthew Hayden's bat. Hayden had managed only three in Australia's reply to the West Indies' 272 all out.

Courtney Walsh
Courtney Walsh
Photo AFP

That wicket was Courtney Walsh's 493rd in Test cricket. As he has done for so long now, Walsh had given his team some hope by getting that early breakthrough. Even if Walsh does not get that unique 500th Test wicket in this final game, he is still an absolute marvel of longevity.

Back in 1998 in Guyana, when England were the visitors to the West Indies, Walsh joined the 100-Test club, one of the greatest achievements in cricket.

To put things in perspective, Walsh is only the fifth West Indian to reach this milestone and just the 18th in the entire history of cricket. Viv Richards, 125 Tests; Desmond Haynes, 116; Clive Lloyd, 110; and Gordon Greenidge, 108, complete the list of West Indian players.

What is obvious is that Walsh is the first West Indian bowler to get there. It is all the more astonishing since Walsh is a fast bowler, albeit that he is coming to the end of his career after starting it way back in 1984/85 at Perth.

It was the late Malcolm Marshall, then the West Indian coach, who made the point that although the Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev, 125 Tests, and England's Ian Botham, 102 Tests, also reached the magic 100 Tests, Walsh is the first "real" fast bowler to have achieved it. He has always been an all-out fast man. In Marshall's mind, and mine, for that matter, both Kapil and Botham were no more than medium-paced all-rounders. I would not even mention Kapil and Botham in the same breath, since Kapil was a much better performer worldwide than Botham was. If you doubt me, just peruse their respective records against the might of the West Indies during those distant times.

Before this final Test at Sydney began, Walsh had already bowled 28,202 legal deliveries in Test cricket. If one also adds his contribution while playing for Gloucestershire in county cricket for more than a decade, and for Jamaica since 1982 in the West Indies regional competitions, Walsh has probably bowled about 120,000 deliveries in representative first-class cricket. How he has done it must be the greatest mystery of both the 20th and 21st centuries.

In these days of growing salaries and perks, had he been paid the miserly sum of US$10 per ball - cheap when one considers that some soccer players around the world make £45,000 a week, or basketball players in the United States who never play a game all season pick up US$1 million a year - Walsh would have made a tidy sum, at least US$1,200,000, as well as his match fees. That sort of money would go down well in the Third World, or anywhere else, for that matter. If only cricket was played in a big way in the money generating US of A!

When Walsh broke the all-time wicket-taking record, taking the last wicket to fall in the second Test against Zimbabwe at Sabina Park, Jamaica, in March 2000, he was in his 114th Test.

Now, with 493 wickets, from 127 Tests so far, the only record that Walsh needs to set, not break, is to reach that 500-wicket mark.

It should also be noted that the year 2000 was particularly productive for Walsh. Despite his obvious decline in speed, Walsh has taken 66 wickets, at the miserly average of 18.69, from only 14 matches in that calendar year. What a performance that has been. Tremendous!

The truth is that even though Walsh has done so much in Test cricket for the West Indies, I doubt that he would be considered by most as being among the four best fast bowlers produced in the Caribbean, much less that world. Names like Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Wes Hall, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner come to mind before one would think of Walsh. Isn't life tough?

I am absolutely sure that Courtney Walsh will not be playing another Test match in Australia. Whenever he has walked to the crease as a batsman, Walsh has been applauded heartily this series. He deserves that, at least.

With my departure from the West Indies team in 1982, Marshall, Garner, Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel and Mike Holding combined with a few "other" fast bowlers, before 1984/85. By then, a "real" new fast bowler was needed.

Then Courtney made his humble advent to Test cricket, returning ordinary match figures of 20-4-43-2, his first two Test wickets being Australian opener Graeme Wood and middle-order batsman Graham Yallop.

Since then, Walsh has been, and continues to be, extraordinary. He has continually worked for, earned and, most times, kept his place. He would be quick to point out though, with a rue smile, that in the interim, he has been dropped 13 times. Amazing for one who always seems ubiquitous and whose services always seem to be needed.

Yet, like Old Man River, he just kept rolling along. Walsh, the complete fast bowler, especially when things were in bad shape or about to fall apart, always seemed to be able to produce some magic.

In Tests, Walsh has taken five wickets in an innings 21 times, ten wickets in an innings three times, his best innings analysis being 7/37. He still has a creditable overall wicket average of just under 25, despite his longevity. Always the professional, he has given his all at all times.

In 1998, he said: "I feel as strong as ever these days. I think that I am bowling the best I have ever done as, over the years, I have learned to pace myself and to turn on the after-burners [his words, not mine] when necessary."

There were those then who wondered if he would ever stop playing Test cricket! I am sure that Walsh will end his illustrious career in 2001. He has already done more than enough to write his name in the annals of Test cricket. I am also sure that the West Indian selectors will allow Walsh to get to 500 Test wickets. He certainly deserves them!

Though he was a captain for a while, Walsh has always essentially been a great fast bowler, always doing the best he can when bowling fast for the West Indies and any other team he has played for.

"Cuddy" has been the total professional, the example that all young fast bowlers should follow.

The least that we can do, the least that Courtney Andrew Walsh deserves from us, is for us to pay homage to this stalwart of West Indies and world cricket.

Thank you, "Cuddy"!