CRICKET: Veteran West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh is not only a champion cricketer - he is also a champion person.
Just when the fans had started talking about the World Cup which is scheduled for May, 1999, and wondering why the West Indies were not planning for it by exposing some young players now, the 35 year old Walsh forced their hand by withdrawing from the last three matches in the present series against England.
These were the words of Walsh on Thursday - the day after the West Indies had won a thrilling match to level the five match series at one-one.
``I felt tired for the first time yesterday. I wanted to survive this game just to get through it with a win and let us try out some youngsters. I think the time has come for the younger bowlers to get their chance in one-day matches - especially as the World Cup is not too far away.''
That is great. That demonstrates, as it did when he decided in January to make himself available for the Test series just concluded, that West Indies cricket comes first in his book.
After winning the Test series, it would be nice to also win the one-day tournament. Winning the World Cup is more important however, and with the next one just 14 months away, the West Indies should be using every opportunity to prepare a team which can win it or at least seriously challenge for the honours.
Winning this series and losing the World Cup, or worse, performing poorly in the World Cup, would do nothing for West Indies cricket, and just as they should do against South Africa later this year and against Australia early next year, they should have been, from the beginning, using this series to get ready for the showpiece of cricket.
With Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, plus the likes of Philo Wallace and Stuart Williams around, the West Indies are blessed with batsmen who are good enough and young enough to carry the flag 14 months from now.
When it comes to their bowling however, the West Indies are not so blessed. Some of the bowlers, in spite of their performance in Test matches, have been easy pickings in one-day internationals, and when it is remembered that there will not be too much breathing space between matches in the World Cup, some of them may be too old - especially when it is also remembered that fielding, including the ability to run and to throw, is important in one-day matches.
The West Indies should have been looking at the team for the World Cup from the first match at Kensington Oval, they should be looking at a team which will include five specialist batsmen, a wicketkeeper who can score some runs, two allrounders, and three specialist bowlers - all of whom should be good in the field, and they should be looking at a squad which will give them the option of always selecting such a team.
West Indians tend to take it lightly, but fielding is of utmost importance in one-day matches.
In the same way that a few runs from the bowlers can make the difference between winning and losing, good, sharp fielding prevents singles from becoming two runs, results in quick singles ending in runouts, and can turn the tide in close contests.
After this series, there are only two more opportunities - one against South Africa in South Africa, one against Australia in the West Indies, and the hope is that the West Indies will use them. They should send their best players for the Test series and those who are not among the best for the one-day internationals should be replaced.
The absence of Walsh gives the West Indies a chance to expose another young fast bowler, the presence of Carl Tuckett in the squad suggests that they have started looking for allround players, and that is a good start - even with the surprise inclusion of veterans like the 35-year-old Phil Simmons and the 33-year-old Keith Arthurton.
The West Indies cannot be expected to build and not win. Winning is neccesary, nobody supports losers even if they are building and the West Indies must play to win and must encourage those who perform regardless of their age. That is part of their responsibility to the fans and to the continued development of the game as far as their domestic competitions are concerned.
It is important however, that the West Indies plan for the World Cup and expose those with the potential to serve the team when the time comes. If they do, the players will have enough time to get ready, and the selectors will have enough time to decide who are good enough and who are not.
Taken from the Sunday Gleaner.