Cricket: Walsh lifts low spirits

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The Independent Online
THEY PRESENTED Courtney Walsh with the keys to Kingston here on Wednesday. A year ago the government appointed him an official ambassador at large.

If so minded, Jamaica's most beloved cricketer could next set his sights on the Prime Minister's post and a lot more besides after another compelling performance on the opening morning of the second Test against Australia yesterday.

As he has been doing for all of his adult life, the game's most enduring fast bowler is presently occupied with the satisfying pastime of accumlating Test wickets. He added another three to increase his growing collection to 407 on the familiar home turf of Sabina Park as Australia, batting on winning the toss, went to lunch 66 for 3.

In 10 probing, successive overs Walsh dismissed the left-handers Matthew Elliott for no score and Justin Langer for eight, both to catches off the outside edge, and first Test century-maker Michael Slater for 22, to a deflection off the inside edge, to give West Indian spirits that were deflated by their soul-destroying defeat in the first Test an early, and necessary, lift.

At the interval, captain Steve Waugh and his brother Mark, were engaged in a holding operation on the ground where they shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 231 in their last Test here four years ago that was the basis of an Australian victory to regain the Frank Worrell Trophy.

Now aged 36, and 15 years into the increasingly demanding grind of international cricket, Walsh has lost some of his youthful pace but none of his desire and aggression. And age has given him the wisdom all great bowlers need.

He and his perennial new-ball companion, Curtly Ambrose, made the most of a Sabina pitch relaid since last year's embarrassing, early abandonment of the Test against England and with more of the pace and bounce than were once its hallmarks.

Even before Walsh accounted for the hesitant Elliott with the first ball he delivered from round the wicket, it was clear the Australians would have a battle on their hands.

Urged on by 8,000 fellow Jamaicans, Walsh forced the left-hander into an uncertain prod off his chest that fell short of gully and just failed to get umpire Peter Willey's agreement on an lbw appeal as Elliott padded away without offering a stroke.

At the opposite end, Ambrose was less energised yet he beat the outside edge of Slater's bat more than once with his late outswingers. He is carrying the after-effects of a swollen left knee that needed careful inspection before he was cleared to play and he was clearly below top pace.

Elliott, recalled after the retirement of the former captain Mark Taylor, fell for his second successive duck in Walsh's third over, and then Langer went to his third wicket-keeper's catch in three innings in Walsh's sixth over.

Slater approached the situation with typical aggression, starting with three boundaries. But Walsh confused him in his seventh over with the combination of two outswingers followed by an off-cutter that cut back sharply to find a thin inside edge on its way to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs.

The problem for the West Indies has been the support bowlers for their two aging champions. The two here are the promising 22-year-old left-arm fast bowler, Pedro Collins, in his second Test, and Nehemiah Perry, the tall, 30-year-old Jamaican off-spinner who was included on the widely held presumption that the hard, dry surface will respond increasing to turn.

Collins could not replicate the control of his two seniors but he came close to an lbw with a late inswinger against Mark Waugh and then passed his uncertain outside edge with one that left him.