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Walsh: WI captain equalled being Caricom PM
Many people go through life reviewing decisions they believe might have been made in error and move onto the stage of harbouring regret. Others sit on the sidelines wishing they could reverse the clock with hope of correcting choices made. But former West Indies and international cricketer, Ambassador Courtney Walsh was consumed by no such desire. He made this clear during a candid discussion with some 400 teenagers during last week’s 15th annual Sport Desk Leadership Symposium, held at the ballroom of the Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre, in St Ann’s, Port-of-Spain, at which the Ministry of Sport and energy company Atlantic were the title sponsors.
Speaking at the four-day conference, the cricket legend described his sporting life as a dream fulfilled, as it added to the quality of life for him off the pitch, too. He underscored, however, that reaching to the pinnacle of the sport could not have been achieved without making major, but necessary sacrifices. “I played cricket and saw the world. I can safely say up until my retirement and even now, I could not have been any happier. I have achieved every goal I have set for myself. I would not change my lifestyle or change what I have achieved in Caribbean cricket or world cricket for anything else in the world. “Sometimes we go through phases in our lives and say if I could…I should of. There is no if or buts about what I have achieved. I am happy and I’m in a comfort zone. I would not change what I have done in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Walsh’s polished sporting career, however, could not have been realised had he not been an obedient child. His involvement in the sport, he said, would not have been possible without his mother’s permission. So he had to complete all chores in order to get the green light to go out and play. Walsh admitted: “I did not balance my time (between sports and academics) that well. I left high school and went straight into cricket. My headmaster and teacher said there’s a space for you, go on this tour and come back. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I never came back to school. I went on my first tour when I was 21 and I got selected for every tour after until I retired. “So I am now getting ready to go back to school. It just goes to show that if you set your mind and if you set your goals to something it can be achieved. I was fortunate that my principal at the time gave me the go ahead to go and pursue my dream. I have no regrets in what they did and they have no regrets in helping me along those lines.”
He tackled questions related to the times he wanted to abandon his quest. He revealed there were many during his career but as history now showed, he didn’t. Walsh explained that when he first played for the West Indies, he was fortunate enough to be selected and play alongside a lot of great team-mates, but when he thought his picks were sure, the selectors started overlooking him. “I was the only person to get dropped about 13 or 14 times. Some of those times—not the first or second or third—but when it started to get monotonous I was seriously considering just stepping back from it and start plying my trade in England, because I used to play county cricket (for Gloucestershire) as well. “Even though I wanted to quit, the inner man in me was saying ‘you have got to fight the adversity and prove to these people that what they are doing is wrong.’ Whenever you are dropped, if you are not disappointed, then you should not be there. I was happy that I had the courage to fight on and I can safely say that after South Africa in 1992, I was never dropped again,” the former WI skipper said.
Being captain of the WI was like being prime minister of the Caribbean said Walsh. Being psychologically and physically equipped to take on duty as a player was not enough to guide Walsh in his duties as captain. Apart from having citizens from every territory look up to the team leader, Walsh simultaneously found himself having to justify his place on the regional team. Added to that, he had to establish stronger lines of communication within the camp citing the obvious cultural differences and eventual clashes that occurred. But most of all, he had to work overtime in an effort to eliminate the perception that cricketers from larger and more established islands like T&T and Jamaica had pride of place on the team over talents from the smaller territories.
“We learnt to understand each other. We learnt each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we tried to support each other as best as we could. Once the bell rang and we were going onto the field of play, it didn’t matter where we came from. We were just West Indies. That is what helped us quite a lot,” said Walsh.
He quickly learnt that his young audience was very informed on almost every aspect of his public life and had to explain why he was christened “heart of a lion.” “When I played cricket, I played from the heart. For those who remember, when I first took over as captain, our logo was on the right hand side and I asked the board (WICB) to switch it to the left hand side, because once I’m involved in a game and we played as a team, I felt that we had to play from the heart. We were playing for the people of the Caribbean. They used to call me ‘lion heart’ because I always give 100 per cent on the field. So I turned the name around: Heart of a Lion,” Walsh said. Outside of cricket, Muhammad Ali (boxer), John Mc Enroe (tennis player) and Pele (footballer) were his mentors. In the world of cricket, however, he was fascinated by the skills of Sir Vivian Richards, Lawrence Rowe, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. He believed his adulation for the latter two led to him fine tuning his bowling, but Walsh lamented that he could not simultaneously emulate the batting prowess of Richards and Rowe.