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Courtney Walsh: Fast and a gentleman who showed winning shouldn’t be at any cost

Courtney Walsh

West Indies lost a crucial World Cup match, but won the hearts of people around the world thanks to Courtney Walsh’s (above) sporting spirit © Getty Images

On October 16, 1987, exactly 25 years ago, Courtney Walsh had refused to run out Saleem Jaffar for back too far at the non-striker’s end in a humdinger at Lahore. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an act of sportsmanship that ultimately cost West Indies a berth in the semi-finals for the first time in World Cup history.

West Indies had already lost their first match of the World Cup – against England. They really needed to win this match to catch up with Pakistan and England, since everyone would win their matches against Sri Lanka (who eventually ended up losing all their six matches).

Things had started off well for West Indies at Lahore. Desmond Haynes and debutant Phil Simmons got them to a good start, the latter scoring a brisk 50 before Saleem Jaffar picked up three quick wickets. However, it was left to Viv Richards to score a 52-ball 51 to trigger the acceleration. Things looked decent at 169 for four before Imran Khan brought himself back and removed Richards. He ran through the tail, to end up with figures of four for 37 and bowl out West Indies for 216, three balls short of their allotted 50 overs. Jaffar took three for 30 and Wasim Akram two for 45.

In reply, Pakistan looked in trouble at 110 for five. This was when Saleem Yousuf joined Imran. Yousuf, one of the most underrated batsmen-wicketkeepers of the 1980s (the following year he would go on to play a key role in Pakistan’s famous tour of West Indies).

Imran held himself back, playing a supporting role, giving strike to Yousuf, who launched a furious assault, flaying the West Indian bowlers to all parts of the Gadaffi Stadium. Patrick Patterson was smashed, and though the spinners did a good containing job, Imran and Jaffar were on track. The West Indian fielders lost their cool, panicked, and spilled at least three chances of Yousuf.

Courtney Walsh, after his two initial wickets, came back to remove Imran. With 15 runs to get, he also got out Yousuf. A run later, Tauseef Ahmed was run out. Jaffar, the last batsman, walked out without any headgear to face Patterson – the fastest bowler of the World Cup. He somehow played out two balls, and Pakistan were left to score 14 off the last over.

Walsh had bowled the fateful last over against England a few days back where Allan Lamb had snatched victory. Richards, however, placed faith in him once again.

Abdul Qadir – in what seemed to be an act of folly – ran a single off the first ball with a drive to long-on. They had considered a second run, but decided against it. With 13 to get from five balls, things seemed hopeless for Pakistan. But Jaffar managed an inside-out slog to cover and scampered through for a single, against all odds.

Pakistan required 12 from four balls now. In what seemed like an encore of the first ball, Qadir had a hoick to long-on. It seemed that they would have to settle for a single again, but Walsh failed to gather the throw properly, and the batsmen ran two.

With 10 runs to be scored from three balls, Walsh ran in. He might have been perturbed by his misfield in the previous ball, but his silken run-up was all calm. He bowled very straight, but had committed the grave sin of pitching it up. Qadir, who went wicketless earlier in the day, had noticed that the long-off was up. He moved to the leg-side, exposing all three stumps and essayed a shot with all the power he had. He timed it well. The ball soared over long-off for a six!

The home crowd went wild. Pakistan required only four from two balls now. And what seemed impossible was now within their grip. Once again Qadir moved towards the leg-side, Walsh decided to follow him with an attempted yorker, and this time Yousuf managed to hit it to deep extra-cover as the batsmen ran another two.

With two required from the final delivery, Walsh approached the stumps for what was supposed to be the last time in the match. However, Jaffar had quite expectedly got a bit too carried away by the heat of the moment, and nerves gave in as he had backed up a bit too much before Walsh had delivered the ball. Walsh ran up to the stumps and stopped. And then, as the hearts of millions stopped, he simply warned Jaffar and went back to the bowling mark (Watch the last two minutes of the video), with a characteristic wry smile on his face.

Walsh ran in again, and decided to go for the stumps this time. Once again Qadir gave himself room, and managed to connect the attempted yorker that would have shattered the stumps otherwise. Third man was inside the circle for some reason, and the ball went past him. The batsmen ran two and Pakistan clinched a thriller.

Walsh’s act went on to cost West Indies a semi-final berth: West Indies ended up having a higher run-rate than Pakistan or England at the end of the group stages; however, Pakistan had five wins and England had four whereas West Indies could muster only three from their six matches. This meant that West Indies would not make it to the semifinals for the first time in the history of the tournament.

However, what Walsh gained was way, way more valuable than the exotic carpet gifted to him later by Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq. He ensured that cricket had emerged victors that day. In a world where sport is often considered synonymous to ruthless competitiveness, Walsh had chosen to act differently.

Courtney Walsh showed that the game could be played like a true gentleman if one truly wanted to.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)

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