Walsh: Pride & passion were hallmarks of Windies cricket

"We had a great team from the late 1970s to much of the 80s. There were some exceptional players, the kind of cricketers who are hard to replace. Then from the late 80s, we began to lose some big players. We no longer had the same consistency," says the former West Indian fast bowler, Courtney Walsh, on the steady decline of cricket in the Caribbean.

Courtney Walsh offers tips to an aspiring fast bowler at the KREEDA coaching camp in Chennai recently. "Being a fast bowler is hard work. You should be prepared for that, physically and mentally," says the West Indian.   -  K. V. Srinivasan

Walsh and Curtly Ambrose got along very well from Day One. “Off the field, we were very good friends. We both had our moments of being jovial or serious. We still catch up whenever possible. We continue to be very good friends,” says Walsh.   -  Getty Images

The first bowler to take 500 Test wickets, Courtney Walsh set the benchmark for the following generations. He was both a workhorse and a destroyer of line-ups.

His run-up was not threatening, but Walsh could generate sharp pace and disconcerting bounce from a whippy action. If the surface developed cracks, the Jamaican fast bowler was almost unplayable. Such was his precision in hitting the right areas.

Walsh formed a phenomenal pace partnership with beanpole Curtly Ambrose, the two picking a mind-boggling 421 wickets between them. Even when West Indies’ batting standards dropped, Walsh and Ambrose bowled their side to some remarkable victories.

Walsh led the West Indies during a testing phase as well. He always carried himself with pride and dignity.

Now, he is one of the selectors of the West Indies team, a demanding role in these changing times.

Walsh was in Chennai recently as part of Golden Goose International’s Ultimate Coaching programme when Sportstar caught up with him.

Question: West Indies is the world champion in Twenty20 cricket. But it is has not been successful in picking itself up in Tests. How do you look at the scenario as a National selector?

Answer: Twenty20 is only 40 overs. The format has its limitations. Test cricket is over five days. We have not had the best in Test cricket so far. But it is something we have been working on. There are signs of improvement. It has nothing to do with technique. It is about concentrating over five days. It’s about patience. West Indies has the ability and the talent. It has to get accustomed to applying itself over long periods as a team. Test cricket is a test of character. You can get away with a few things in ODI or Twenty20 cricket. That will not be easy in a Test where there is more time for planning and execution. It’s about striking the right balance in your approach.

Do you think the desire to excel in Tests no longer exists, or is prevalent only in a small measure in the Caribbean? The shortest format of the game seems to have taken over…

I don’t think so. It might be the mindset of some. It might also be their comfort zone. Some players want to play only the shorter versions. It’s about what you want to leave behind. Some people want to be the best. If you want to be the best in all formats, you need to play in all of them. It is the desire within you. It’s about individuals taking pride in their performances.

However, more and more leading players in the Caribbean are picking Twenty20 and franchise cricket over Tests…

It comes down to the individual. It’s about individual choice. It’s about what they think is best for them and go that road. But it will be a sad day if we turn our backs on Test cricket. For me, Test cricket was the highlight of playing cricket. I am a purist. I always believe in Test cricket, I love its challenges. I can watch a one-day or Twenty20 game anywhere. But I played cricket because of Tests.

Don’t you feel that pride is lacking now?

Pride and passion were the unifying forces in the Caribbean. Everyone wanted to play for the West Indies during my time. And we wanted to play all formats. In our time, it was Test and ODIs. We didn’t want to play the Test or the ODIs alone. But I still want to believe there are cricketers wanting to excel in all formats for the West Indies even now.

You struck a legendary pace partnership with Curtly Ambrose. Both of you combined to produce some timeless moments for West Indies. What are your memories about that association?

We were different bowlers. We complemented — not competed against — each other. That was the hallmark of our careers. We communicated with each other on what we wanted to do, on how to approach certain batsmen. I was proud to be a part of that partnership. It made life easier for me. We hunted well as a pair. We also did not give easy runs away, built pressure on the batsmen, were consistent.

From day one, we got along very well. We enjoyed a good game of cricket on the field of play. We were switched on very easily, wanted to do well for the team. Off the field, we were very good friends. We both had our moments of being jovial or serious. When I became captain, I could not be as fun loving as he was. But we were both professional in what we wanted to do. We still catch up whenever possible. We continue to be very good friends.

There was a period in the 1990s when West Indies cricket, despite a decline, was still very tough to beat at home. Nowadays, West Indies is slumping to easy defeats in Tests even at home. Where has that pride gone?

A lot of people have said that. Pride and passion were the hallmarks of West Indies cricket. Again, it comes back to the individual, whether he wants to play with those qualities for the West Indies. It will reflect in his performances.

Where do you think West Indies’ decline started?

We had a great team from the late 1970s to much of the 80s. There were some exceptional players, the kind of cricketers who are hard to replace. Then from the late 80s, we began to lose some big players. We no longer had the same consistency. We were hot and cold. Some days we were very, very hot and on some days, we were very, very cold. Consistency was just not there.

Don’t you feel stunning success in Twenty20 cricket would push the youngsters in the Caribbean even more away from Test cricket?

I don’t think so. I am hoping that the success in Twenty20 would have a rub-off effect at home. More youngsters would want to play. And when you get more people into the game, we can build from that for all formats.

You had a long and fulfilling career, and you bowled against some great batsmen. Who were the best you bowled to?

It’s hard to compare. As a former player, I don’t like to compare. We played against some great players. They were all fierce competitors, Steve Waugh, Sachin, Miandad, Border, Gooch, Atherton.

And who were the fast bowlers who inspired you? You had some fearsome fast bowlers around in your formative years in the Caribbean. There was no dearth of role models...

I didn’t play against Dennis Lillee in a game. Lillee and Sir Garry were the fast bowlers I admired growing up. Then, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall were the fast bowlers I learnt a lot from. I used to watch them closely, pick up little things.

That was a period when we also had four great pace-bowling all-rounders — Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee. I used to watch them a lot. Saw how they bowled. They were very skilful.

Don’t you believe wickets around the world have lost their character? Pitches have become much slower. Even the surfaces in Perth and Jamaica, traditionally fast, have lost so much pace?

Quite a few wickets over the world have lost their character. The game is tailor-made more for the batsmen these days. The wickets have become flatter. They seam less, provide less assistance to the pacemen. That’s one of the reasons why you do not have too many genuine fast bowlers around.

So, the pacemen need to develop new tricks. They have to be deceptive through the air, bowl yorkers, learn reverse swing and change of pace.

Hasn’t the game become too commercial these days? Cricketers no longer seem to be enjoying their cricket. And greed for more money appears to have replaced the pride of representing the country...

I cannot comment on that. But we, in our time, played for enjoyment, passion and also strove to perform to the best of our ability. We wanted to win. We wanted to represent the West Indies.

Incidents of match- and spot-fixing are threatening the very soul of the game. Is not educating the young cricketers about the dangers of indulging in corrupt practices of paramount importance now?

Corruption in the game is disheartening. That’s not how the game should be played. It kills the spirit of the game. If you are not trying to play at your best then you should not be playing the game.

Educating the youngsters is important. I think the ICC has done a good job here, particularly when it comes to talking to the cricketers about this serious issue at the under-19 level. Everybody should do their bit; they should do something to eradicate this. The various teams, the clubs, the franchises, they should all chip in.

Given the turmoil West Indies cricket has been in, in recent years, is a compromise between the Board and the cricketers possible?

The sooner it is sorted out, the better. The best compromise is for everybody to walk onto the ground happy.

In a long and illustrious career, can you pick your three best moments?

Being the first to reach 500 Test wickets was a proud moment for me. It was like conquering a peak, a magic moment. The Adelaide Test against Australia in 1993 is also up there. Australia needed only two runs to win when I got last man Craig McDermott to nick one behind. There was so much pressure, so much tension. It was a wonderful moment when we won that Test by one run. I will cherish that match. Then comes the Test in Barbados, in the early 90s, when we went into the final day with South Africa in a strong position for a win. We were not defending much. But Ambrose and myself bowled West Indies to victory in a pretty dramatic way. The South Africans, needing just over 200, collapsed from 120-odd for two. It was the first Test for South Africa after their return to international cricket. It was a pretty special occasion. In the end it was a team performance from us, the way we came back to win.

Are you disappointed that during the period you and Ambrose bowled in tandem for the West Indies, some of the other pacemen around you did not live up to their promise?

Rion King and Franklyn Rose, they did not progress to the levels I expected them to. Both had a lot of potential. It happens in sports.

What is the major requirement for a fast bowler?

Strong legs, strong back, strong shoulders and strong will power. Being a fast bowler is hard work. You should be prepared for that, physically and mentally.

You and Ambrose bowled with exceptional control. You could land the ball where you wanted to. That kind of discipline and precision is lacking in bowlers these days. Sometimes they appear to be trying too many things…

You should practise you skills relentlessly. Spend a lot of time in the nets. But the bowlers today are playing in all three formats and sometimes it becomes difficult for them to adjust. The better ones still do it. The bowlers today should be playing in a lot more first-class matches. This is not easy given the amount of international and franchise cricket. In our days, we bowled a lot in first-class matches. The more you bowl and practise, the better you will get in control. Then again, the present day bowlers should learn to adjust to different conditions and formats. It’s horses for courses.

There has been plenty of debate about ball tampering. The great Richard Hadlee said, perhaps in desperation, that ball tampering should be made legal…

My philosophy of cricket is simple. Play the game by its rules. Play fair.

What are your views on day/night cricket? Don’t you think the spinners will suffer because of the dew? The conditions prevalent in the day and then in the night could be vastly different too…

We had a successful one in Australia last season. It was a good step forward. I don’t mind if the conditions are different. That’s why it is called Test cricket. You should be able to cope with whatever you face. You need to get people inside the stadium as well.

Coming to the dew factor, it depends on what time of the year and at which venue you play. Taking these factors into account you can always pick the right venue in that period of the year when there will be less dew.

The rules are increasingly favouring batsmen these days. The free hit for a no ball is among them.

There is no point complaining. The rules have always favoured batsmen. You should just go out there and do your job to the best of your ability.

How do you look at the DRS?

India doesn’t use it. Other countries use it. If you use something, it should be used in all parts of the world at all levels on a consistent basis. If it is an ICC rule then it should be an ICC rule.