'Follow me,' Courtney Walsh said in a voice as smooth as his bowling action when it was pointed out to him that the lobby of the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo was too noisy for an interview. He led this fortunate reporter through a restaurant and out by the pool and settled down into his seat. Being Bangladesh's fast bowling coach is not his main identity. To any cricket fan he is Walsh, the man who retired as Test cricket's highest wicket-taker and formed one of the fiercest fast bowling duos of all time with Curtly Ambrose. Before that, he was also in the West Indies side of the 1980s, possibly the greatest team of all time. Walsh looks back upon his career and talks about the art of fast bowling in the first part of this two-part interview with The Daily Star's Sakeb Subhan, with tomorrow's second instalment containing his thoughts on Bangladesh cricket, West Indies cricket, how the game has changed and a conversation he had with Brian Lara during the latter's epic 153 in Barbados in 1999.
The Daily Star (TDS): How did you start playing cricket?
Courtney Walsh (CW): I had a special love for the game. All my cricket as a youngster was played at Melbourne Cricket Club in Jamaica, which around that time was the same club for Michael Holding. I used to go and watch Mikey play at first when I was a kid, I was still in school. And then I played Devlin Cup, minor club and junior club. Then I played Senior Club, so it was easy for me in the sense that I was walking distance from the club. I could just walk over. On a Saturday or a Sunday I could just walk over and there was cricket and football just being played. So it was easy for me, the cricketers were always there and I had easy access, just go over and practise with the big guys.
TDS: When you were coming up in the 70s, how hard did you think it was going to be to break into that legendary quartet?
CW: I just honestly didn't think of it at the time, because I just saw myself playing club cricket and for school, I was in Excelsior. It was for fun. It was only when I was selected to play for Jamaica Youths, I thought well, maybe something might happen. Even at that young age I wasn't thinking of playing for West Indies. I was thinking of playing for Jamaica. I was playing for the Youths, I should be able to play for the senior team. Then I got selected to play for the West Indies youth team in 1982. I think that's when my sights and my ambitions got bigger. I thought that it would be good to represent the West Indies at the senior level, seeing as I had done it at the junior level.
TDS: You came into the Test side, one of the best sides of all time, in 1984. How was the dressing room full of legends?
CW: It was a tremendous experience playing with the likes of Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Larry Gomes, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Jeffrey Dujon. To be a part of that team, to be selected in the makeup of that team for me was a tremendous experience. As a youngster I was overwhelmed.
TDS: Who was the big guy in the fast bowling stable when you came in?
CW: Those days there were three big guys as far as I was concerned. Joel Garner, big in size and stature and a tremendous bowler; Michael Holding, one of the best run-ups you could think of in international cricket, very, very fast; and Malcolm Marshall who to me was a complete fast bowler. I think he had everything as a fast bowler. He was the complete package. I learnt a lot from him and he was one of the best fast bowlers of all time.
TDS: How fast were you back then? How would you compare yourself to the guys in the team?
CW: I was never one who just relied on raw pace. Jeffrey Dujon said I was just as quick as the others when I wanted to be. I never sort of wanted to bowl flat out fast all the time. I was more accustomed to bowling longer spells. There were a couple of Test matches where I sort of let myself go. Antigua against England, Sabina Patk against England as well, the last Test in India, in New Zealand when I was captain. Those were probably four of the Test matches where I really tried to bowl as quick as I could, with a bit of movement.
TDS: You had a pretty easy and smooth bowling action. Did you always have that or did you develop it?
CW: No, it was something that I always had. I tried to get it a little bit better; as I played I tried to improve on it. It was something that I think, when I was a kid, it was reasonably okay, but I worked on getting it a lot better as time progressed, you know, as smooth as I could get it. Minimal effort and I tried to get the best balance I could at the point of delivery, to maximise power, control and everything.
TDS: There is a lot of emphasis these days on reverse swing, but you didn't reverse swing it that much, did you?
CW: All of us can reverse swing the ball. It's not as hard as people make it out to be. It's just having the control. If you have good control you can reverse swing any time.
TDS: You've had some memorable battles, some one-sided ones with Michael Atherton. Did you really think that you could get him out every time you ran into bowl?
CW: You think you can get every batsman out sometime. Some are more unlucky or lucky. Back in those days the mindset was that we believed we could get anyone out on any type of surface. It was unfortunate for Mike because he played against us probably when we were at the best part of our careers, more or less in our prime so it was difficult for him. He scored runs against us, but we just felt that we could dominate any batsman in those days. That's how confident we were. So even if he got runs against us in this Test, we still believed that he's gonna get it in the next Test.
TDS: After the four quicks retired and Curtly Ambrose came on, how was the equation between the two of you?
CW: When he started I was a little bit ahead of him. We developed a bowling relationship, a special friendship and a bond that was second to none. We are like brothers now. We never competed against each other, we tried to complement each other. I think that was one of the major points of success in our bowling partnership. We worked with each other, we analysed batsmen together. We worked out what's the best thing to do. Sometimes he was bowling well and I would just play the holding role and sometimes I was bowling well and he would do the same. Back in those days we used to share rooms. We shared a room a couple of times. I remember on his first tour of Pakistan me and him shared a room together. We did a lot of talking about cricket and stuff. You don't have that now, everybody has a single room. There's no communication until you're out on the park.
To be continued