Cricket World Cup history: Courtney Walsh, a true role model
A gentleman fast bowler - in itself an anachronism - Courtney Walsh has been one of the most remarkable characters in modern cricket. An enduring memory of this unusual man is his amazingly sporting conduct in not running out Pakistan’s Salim Jaffer at Lahore in the 1987 World Cup in the tense closing stages of a nail-biting match.
That would have been the last ball, and had Walsh ‘Mankaded’ Jaffer, the West Indies would have won the match by one run, and may have perhaps also qualified for the semi-finals. But that would have been a victory devoid of honour, and Walsh is nothing if not an honourable man.
As it turned out, Pakistan won the match by one wicket when Walsh eventually delivered that last ball. The incident epitomized Walsh, who always played within the spirit of the game.
It was not that he did not play the hard way. He would never have captured the highest number of wickets in Test cricket had he not done so. But he never bent the rules to his advantage, and was always dignified on and off the field.
Walsh is still the highest wicket-taker for the West Indies in the World Cup. He appeared in the competition for the first time against England in 1987. He made early inroads, having Chris Broad caught behind, though he came in for a hammering later as England snatched a two-wicket victory.
He made another early breakthrough against Sri Lanka, again in collusion with Jeff Dujon, but was more economical this time.
Then came that extraordinary match against Pakistan. Walsh ripped through the middle order. He had Salim Malik caught by Eldine Baptiste, and then bowled Ijaz Ahmed to have Pakistan tottering at 110 for five.
He returned to dismiss both skipper Imran Khan and Salim Yousuf, who were staging a rearguard action. At that stage he had taken four for 26 off 9 overs.
He came on to bowl the last fateful over with Pakistan needing 14 to win and Abdul Qadir in a belligerent mood. The rest, as they say, is history, remembered as much for Walsh’s noble gesture as for the heart-stopping finish.
Walsh had a quiet time in the return matches against Sri Lanka and England. The West Indies were now playing only for pride. As they faced Pakistan, Walsh dismissed Malik and Imran, finishing with two for 34 in his 10 overs. The side took solace from the fact that they won their last match.
Walsh did not appear in the 1992 World Cup but returned to the sub-continent for the sixth edition of the tournament. By this time the West Indies team bore a completely new look. For the first time in the competition he shared the new ball with his great comrade-in-arms Curtly Ambrose.
Walsh was rather inconspicuous, though accurate, in the early stages of the event, but bowled well enough in the stunning reverse at the hands of Kenya. He took the first three wickets as Kenya struggled at 45 for three. Ultimately, in the context of the match, he conceded too many runs - 46 runs in his 9 overs.
But with the West Indies desperately needing a win over Australia in the last league match in order to qualify for the quarter-finals, Walsh was at his best again. He had skipper Mark Taylor caught behind by Courtney Browne. Later he bowled Steve Waugh who had put on 110 for the third wicket with Ricky Ponting.
Walsh replicated his sporting gesture of 1987, this time refusing to run out non-striker Stuart Law in the last over. He finished with two for 35 off 9 overs. Richie Richardson’s brilliant knock ensured that the side would progress to the knockout stage.
Walsh did not have much of a role in the quarter-final, but bowled tidily in the closely-fought semi-final against Australia after early inroads had been made by Ambrose and Ian Bishop. He was the last batsman to be dismissed as the West Indies surrendered a match that they seemed to have had in their grasp.
Walsh bowled 333 deliveries in the tournament, the same number that he did in 1987, and he was as disciplined as ever.
It has often been said that Walsh got better with age, and if proof of it were required one only needs to look at his figures in the 1999 tournament. Of course, that event was held in territory familiar to him, and which favoured his type of bowling - a far cry from conditions in the sub-continent where he played his other two World Cups, where wickets are usually graveyards of fast bowlers.
Walsh was unerringly accurate in 1999. In a tough opening encounter he dismissed both Pakistani openers, Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi cheaply. He then knocked back the stumps of big-hitting skipper Wasim Akram to finish with three for 28 off his 10 overs.
The hapless Bangladeshis bore the brunt of Walsh’s swerving deliveries. He tore through their line-up to bag four for 25 off 10 overs, and claimed the man-of-the-match award.
Walsh continued to be on target against New Zealand, removing Matthew Horne early and conceding just 23 runs off his 10 overs.
The rookies from Scotland had a torrid time against the West Indies attack, being shot out for 68 in 31.3 overs. Walsh was not to be left out of the fun, his analysis being 7-1-7-3.
To beat Australia in the last round-robin match for a berth in the super-six stage was a tall order. They had done exactly that in 1996, thanks to Richie Richardson’s brilliance. This time Australia too were in strife, and they prevailed easily. Walsh bowled accurately, giving away just 25 runs in his 10 overs.
That was the last time the large-hearted Walsh played in the World Cup. It had been a long journey for the gentle giant who shall remain an inspiration for generations of cricketers - not only for his feats with the red cherry, but equally for his demeanour on the field.
Ted Corbett summed up the man: “Walsh has represented all that is good and exciting and virtuous in West Indies cricket. He has a heart that is larger than the rest of that stretched limo he calls his body. He never knows when he is beaten, he never lets a batsman have an easy ball, he never cruises.”
Will we see another like him? One certainly hopes so.
Courtney Walsh’s World Cup bowling and fielding record:
Matches 17, Wickets 27, Average 20.25, Best 4/25, Economy 3.46, Catches 3
Also see – Australia vs England head to head stats