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Farewell, Mr Walsh

COURTNEY Andrew Walsh has loped off into the sunset at last. One of the most magnificent performers that the game has known has bid farewell to the West Indies team, mercifully on a winning note, though he must have been sorely disappointed that the series against South Africa was lost. Nevertheless it was some consolation for this gentleman from Jamaica that he could savour victory in his final Test. That pleasure was not enjoyed by some greater men who went before him - Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, to name just two - who ended their careers on a losing note.

Walsh's saga is an amazing one, a tribute to endurance but not merely that. The man has performed at all times and if any indication is needed, it is the fact that in his last Test, he had figures of six for 93 off 40 overs at the ripe old age of 38, an age when even most batsman have long hung up their boots. Various factors contributed to his longevity - at one stage it was a desire to reach 400 wickets, at another the 500 mark was the lure, but all along he has always put the team's interests before his own. He took good care of his body and being a man of deep religious beliefs, helped no end. He was a fair competitor and a competent one; he and Curtley Ambrose formed a deadly pair for a long time and while the lanky Ambrose tormented batsmen at one end by not allowing them to score, Walsh attacked and reaped the spoils. A telling statistic of his career is the fact that he took 182 wickets in 39 Tests after the age of 35!

I still remember Walsh's first Test at Perth in 1984; the Australians had little to celebrate that day as the West Indies destroyed them. Despite being the fourth arrow in Lloyd's pace arsenal for that game, he was not called on to bowl in the first innings; that alone should gives an indication of what a class act the West Indies bowlers were during that era. In that first innings, Michael Holding, Walsh's hero (one statement that shows Walsh's humility was made then - that he was over the moon to be playing alongside Holding, his idol) blasted Australia out for 76, capturing six for 21. Walsh and another bowler named Milton Small (a very tall man, this Small) were the two rookie pacemen who made that trip Down Under. Walsh bowled in the second innings of the first Test and took two wickets; his first victim in Test cricket was Graeme Wood.

As the pacemen kept coming through in the Caribbean, there was never a fear that the supply would dry up. But this is exactly what happened. After Walsh, came Patrick Patterson, Tony Gray, Curtley Ambrose, and Ian Bishop and there the class act ended. Others like Winston Benjamin, Ezra Moseley and Kenneth Benjamin had only brief careers before fading away. Gray and Bishop were victims of back injuries. Walsh and Ambrose formed a good partnership and after the other fast men of the 1980s retired, they soldiered on. Ambrose quit after the tour of England last year. Walsh carried on for almost a year after that.

A Test which will probably live in Walsh's memory is the fourth Test against Australia in 1992-93. The West Indies drew the first and lost the second and were looking down the barrel in the third after Australia put up a total of 500-plus. Brian Lara played his superlative innings of 277 and they earned a draw. Test four was down to the wire with Australia needing two runs to win with one wicket in hand. Walsh was given the ball and promptly had Craig McDermott caught behind to give the West Indies a famous victory by one run. South Africa's first Test against the West Indies saw a similar fairy tale. The tourists went into the final day at 122 for two, needing 79 to win. But Walsh and Ambrose had other ideas and blew away the tourists for 148, Ambrose getting six and Walsh four.

Walsh was never a high-profile cricketer. He was a fierce competitor on the field but never resorted to unfair tactics to win or get the better of the opposition. He is well remembered for his gesture to Salim Jaffer during the 1992 World Cup tie against Pakistan; the West Indies needed to win in order to reach the semi-finals and Walsh could have run out Jaffer who was backing up too far. But the gentleman that he is, Walsh looked sternly at Jaffer and warned him that any further backing up would mean his demise. The West Indies lost that match but Walsh's gesture won many hearts.

Few cricketers have worn the West Indies colours with more pride. It was during his short reign as captain that he gave orders that the West Indies crest on the players' shirts should be placed on the left side and not the right, so that it would be over each players' heart. He led the team to a drawn series in India in 1994 and then won against New Zealand in New Zealand. He was made captain after the World Cup of 1996 and led the team to victory over New Zealand at home, lost to Australia on tour and then led in two home series against India and Sri Lanka, winning both. He then led the team to Pakistan and that ended up in a shellacking. Lara took over from him after that.

Somehow, I think Walsh was happier as a player. He accepted the captaincy for the tour of India with reluctance after Desmond Haynes had turned it down in a fit of justified pique; Haynes should have been made captain after Richards but had been passed over, with Richardson getting the job instead. "I began as a player and I'll end as a player", were Walsh's words after the tour of India, when he promptly handed the reins back to Richardson. He had his moment of glory on that tour - the Windies went into the final Test one-down and faced the ignominy seeing the end of the glorious unbeaten streak that had begun in 1980. But Walsh came up with his own brand of magic to help win that match and draw the series 1-1.

There are many tales told about Walsh's batting. He was no Trumper with the bat but he did provide a fair bit of amusement when at the crease. He did hold his end up at times, though, the most well-remembered occasions being when he stood by Brian Lara in the third Test of the 1999 home series against Australia, and then held the fort with Jimmy Adams against Pakistan last year, surviving 24 balls and helping his captain add the 19 runs needed for victory. Apart from his bowling record, Walsh also holds the record for the maximum number of ducks in a career.

As younger and younger players came into the team, it was assumed that the older ones would fade away. Not so with Walsh. He led the bowling from the front and was a model to emulate. Some of the kids in the team called him Mr Walsh out of respect. To them, and to many others he was and will remain a legend in his time. And as he sits in his armchair and catches up on lost time with near and dear ones, I doubt very much if any cricketer past or present will have a bad word to say about him. No sir, he was as fine as they come. The sad thing is they don't make them like him any more. Farewell, Mr Walsh.

Career figures:
132 Tests, 185 innings, 61 not out, 936 runs, average 7.54, highest score 30 not out, 29 catches, 5003.1 overs, 1144 maidens, 12688 runs, 519 wickets, 24.44 average, best 7-37, 22 five-wicket hauls and three 10-wicket hauls.
205 one-dayers, 79 innings, 33 not out, 321 runs, highest score 30, average 6.97, 27 catches, 1803.4 overs, 185 maidens, 6918 runs, 227 wickets, 30.47 average, best 5 for one run, six four-wicket hauls and one five-wicket haul.