Cricketer of the Year, 1987

Courtney Walsh

The revival of Gloucestershire -- bottom of the County Championship table in 1984, third in 1985 and second last season-- has been achieved through a team effort. Nevertheless, if one had to nominate a member of the side whose performances have been particularly influential, that man would surely be the West Indian fast bowler, Courtney Walsh, who in 1985 and 1986 took 203 wickets for the county at less than 19 runs apiece.

Walsh's bowling in 1986, when he was the country's leading wicket-taker with 118, was truly remarkable. His new-ball partner, David Lawrence, was less effective than in 1985, in addition to which Gloucestershire's penetrative third seamer, Kevin Curran, was prevented from bowling by a shoulder injury. These two factors imposed a burden on Walsh which he carried in heroic fashion as, showing great physical and mental stamina, he bowled with relentless hostility and reeled off match-winning performances week after week.

Of Gloucestershire's nine Championship victories last year, only one, at Leicester, came about through a contrived finish. The other eight were the result of natural cricket, and it is enlightening to list them with Walsh's match figures alongside.

Hampshire were beaten at Bournemouth by 146 runs; Walsh eleven for 94.

Kent, at Gloucester, by four wickets; Walsh seven for 107.

Surrey, at Bristol, by 96 runs; Walsh eleven for 113.

Glamorgan, at Cardiff, by five wickets; Walsh six for 72.

Sussex, at Bristol, by one wicket; Walsh six for 129.

Somerset, at Bristol, by an innings and 7 runs; Walsh ten for 114.

(His nine for 72 in Somerset's first innings was a career best.)

Worcestershire, at Worcester, by 78 runs; Walsh six for 97.

Hampshire, at Cheltenham, by 17 runs; Walsh twelve for 124.

His county captain, David Graveney, cannot praise Walsh highly enough. He bowled 790 overs last season and wanted to bowl every one of them. He virtually carried our attack and did so without a murmur; he is a marvellous team man. When sides are chasing Championships, things can sometimes get a little tense in the dressing-room. Courtney has the knack of defusing awkward situations with a humorous remark or some genial clowning.

Courtney Andrew Walsh was born in Kingston, Jamaica on October 30, 1962, and his early cricket was played there with the Melbourne club, which Michael Holding also represented. He made his first-class debut in 1981-82 as a teenager, taking fifteen Shell Shield wickets at 25.20 runs apiece. Less successful in 1982-83, he really came to the fore in 1983-84 when he took 30 wickets at an average of 20.06, figures good enough to earn him a tour of England in 1984. However, faced with competition from Marshall, Garner, Holding, Baptiste, Davis and Small, he did not gain a Test place until the following winter when he played in all five Tests in Australia and one at home against New Zealand, taking sixteen wickets in all.

When England visited the West Indies in 1985-86, the emergence of Patrick Patterson restricted Walsh's opportunities, and so for all his talent he had yet to break through fully at Test level. There have been times when he felt he may never do so. They want high pace all the time, he said, and that isn't my way. As a young bowler my idols were Michael Holding and Andy Roberts, who were both slowing up a bit when I started to play. They could bowl the odd quick ball still, but they varied it a lot. I admired the way they out-thought batsmen with change of pace and length, and that's how I like to bowl.

Walsh's start with Gloucestershire was not unduly impressive. Tom Graveney, on a trip to the West Indies in 1983-84, had spotted something Holding-like in Walsh's rhythm and had recommended him to Gloucestershire, who signed him for the 1984 season. However, his selection for the West Indian party meant that he played only six matches for the county after the tour, and in those he took eighteen rather expensive wickets. His run seemed overlong and, perhaps because he had been told that the ball would automatically do odd things on English pitches, he tended to plop the ball on a length instead of hitting the deck with it.

He learned quickly, though, and in 1985 he showed himself a bowler of high quality, his 85 wickets costing only 20.07 runs each. He is tall-- 6ft 5½in-- lean, and loose-limbed with a high arm. His action is more chest-on than the purist would like, which means that movement in the air tends to be into the right-handed batsman, but his ability to hit the seam means that the inswinger will often leave the bat off the pitch.

Walsh's pace, though considerable, is not of the very highest; but the steep bounce he commands has made him consistently hostile. His run-up has been reduced, as much to avoid fines for slow over-rates as to conserve energy, yet he remained distinctly sharp off thirteen or fourteen strides. Even his teammates could not anticipate the speed at which the ball would emerge from his hand, so adept had he become at disguising his intentions. Informed opinion in the Gloucestershire dressing-room is that he has three distinct speeds, all delivered with the same action. There are also minute variations within these, so it is not surprising that Walsh hit batsmen's stumps at some times when they had completed their stroke and at others when they had scarcely started it. He has made sparing use of the bouncer, his shorter deliveries generally threatening the batsman's rib-cage, a tactic which, allied to change of pace, produced many catches in the short-leg area off splice or glove.

As a batsman, Walsh wields a useful long handle. In the field, he usually patrols the third man and fine leg areas, where he is subject to fits of abstraction; frantic bellows from his team-mates are sometimes necessary to alert him to an approaching ball. When concentrating he is an excellent ground fielder, swift, athletic and possessing a powerful arm. Certainly his rich talent and admirable temperament make him a marked asset to any side he plays in. At only 24 he has already made a great impact on county cricket and, his own over-modest doubts notwithstanding, must surely soon do the same in the international arena.-- D.M.G.

© John Wisden & Co