On December 3, 1986, Courtney Walsh, one of West Indies’ most successful bowlers, bowled a spell that went on to become the cheapest five-wicket haul in ODI history. Karthik Parimal talks about how that bowling performance left the Sri Lankans flabbergasted.
Twenty-six years ago, Courtney Walsh wasn’t one of West Indies’ primary fast bowlers, although that did change in due course of time. In an attack featuring the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose, Walsh often played second fiddle during the initial stages of his career. On December 3, 1986, in the fifth match of the Champions Trophy at Sharjah against Sri Lanka, Walsh was used as a fifth bowler, but that did not stop him from creating havoc and registering the cheapest five-wicket haul in international history. He wiped out the Sri Lankan tail by conceding just one run in 4.3 overs and finished with an economy rate of 0.22.
The Sri Lankans were still learning the ropes in international cricket back then, and were comprehensively beaten by the Indians and Pakistanis prior to this fixture. On the other hand, West Indies looked unstoppable, having trounced Pakistan and India by 9 wickets and 33 runs respectively. Hence, there was little doubt as to who the favourites were in the clash between the two island nations.
Having been put into bat, West Indies amassed 248 in its 45 overs, riding on Richie Richardson’s maiden international hundred. He was however dropped thrice on scores of 0, 6 and 35 and later made the bowlers pay. The target was a daunting one for Sri Lanka, and they were soon reeling at 50 for five, before the ball was tossed to Walsh to perform the final rites.
This is how Walsh’s wicket-taking deliveries were, and needless to say, the Sri Lankan lower-order looked completely flummoxed.
Walsh’s wicket #1: In Walsh’s first over, middle-order batsman Duleep Mendis survived a massive appeal for leg before wicket. The ball thudded into the upper part of Mendis’ pads, but umpire Dickie Bird turned down the vociferous appeal. In his next over, Walsh bowled a good-length delivery just outside the off-stump, which Mendis played away from the body and ended up edging it to ‘keeper Jeff Dujon. Mendis gave Walsh his first scalp and the score now read 51 for six.
Walsh’s wicket #2: The next wicket to fall was that of Asantha de Mel, who walked out tentatively to the middle. The uncertainty in his mind was evident when he was beaten in the first ball Walsh bowled to him. That delivery missed the edge of his bat by inches, but the next one was much fuller, and it swung in considerably to firstly hit the pads and then divert on to the off-stump. De Mel was perplexed and made the long walk back to the dressing room, and like the commentator rightly stated, the batsman would have been adjudged lbw even if the ball didn’t shatter the wickets. The game was no longer within Sri Lanka’s reach, and the scoreboard reading 51 for seven confirmed that fact.
Walsh’s wicket #3: Walsh was yet to concede a run but already had two wickets under his belt. The new batsman Ravi Ratnayeke, who had a mixed day with the ball, wasn’t going to pose a threat with the bat. Walsh let loose a leg-cutter in his first ball to Ratnayeke, to which the latter had no answer. A couple of deliveries later, he confused him with an in-cutter which entirely uprooted the off-stump. A tiny gap between the bat and pad was enough for Walsh to make a strike. He now had figures of 2.5-2-0-3.
Walsh’s wicket #4: The score was still stuck at 51 and eight wickets had fallen. The new batsman at the crease, Rumesh Ratnayake – who shared the new ball with Asantha de Mel, wasn’t very adept with the bat either. After facing just four deliveries, he was beaten by a ball that just moved slightly away from him at the last moment, and the off-stump went flying out of the turf. Sri Lanka had now lost nine wickets for just 51 on the board, while Walsh picked up his fourth wicket and was yet to concede a run.
Walsh’s wicket #5: While wickets kept falling at the other end, courtesy Walsh, Hashan Tillakaratne stayed put and eventually pinched a single by steering one of Walsh’s deliveries to the third man. That was the only run scored off Walsh that day. At the end of his fourth over, Walsh’s figures read 4-3-1-4.
Graeme Labrooy was the No.11 batsman who got ready to face Walsh now. Having batted for seven deliveries for his one, Labrooy could do little against a ball the cut back in after pitching on good length, and it eventually went on to hit the top of the middle-stump, thereby ending the game with Sri Lanka’s total stranded on 55. Walsh’s final figures read 4.3-3-1-5, the cheapest ever five-wicket haul in international history.
West Indies registered a 193-run victory and Walsh was rightfully declared the Man of the Match. This was Sri Lanka’s lowest total ever in One-Day Internationals (ODI), their previous being 86 against the same opponents in 1975 at Manchester. The record stood good for the next 26 years, before they were bowled out for 43 against the South Africans at Paarl earlier this year in January.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)