Courtney Walsh says West Indies can recapture glory days
IT was enough to strike fear into batsmen around the world.
The sight of West Indian fast bowlers like Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh steaming in and letting go thunderbolts created an aura that helped take the Caribbean nation to the top of the cricketing world.
Throw in some of best batsmen to have ever played, including Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson, and it was little wonder fans around the globe would queue up to watch some of the most exhilarating cricket imaginable.
Unfortunately those glory days are a distant memory, with the team now ranked eighth among Test-playing nations, and quoted at a staggering $34 to win the coming three-Test series against Australia which starts in Hobart on Thursday.
But a blueprint for change has been drawn up, starting with a revamp of the country's domestic competition.
The six West Indian first-class teams are now able to select players from across the region and overseas, bringing a franchise structure to the tournament, similar to the Caribbean Premier League.
A draft system has also been introduced, where each of the teams are allowed to retain and contract 10 players.
The rest of the region's player pool goes into a draft for the teams to complete their 15-man squads.
Annual contracts are now given to the 15 players from each of the six board teams - Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands.
A structured year-round cricket program has also been introduced.
Each team plays a minimum of 10 matches per season - in a home and away format - and there are professional coaching staff for all first-class teams who now have international-standard grounds to play on.
Courtney Walsh told APN the changes were definitely a step in the right direction.
"I'm happy with what we've been trying to do in the last year or two, with the professionalisation of the league," he said.
"That gives guys the chance to play in more first-class games and get them ready for Test and international cricket.
"This is our second (revamped) season and I'm hoping both coaches and players can learn a lot from it, and the West Indies team will get stronger from that."
Now 53, Walsh took a remarkable 519 Test wickets from 132 matches, leaving him fifth on the all-time list behind Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Shane Warne (718), Anil Kumble (619) and Glenn McGrath (563).
And it was starting his career in a strong first-class competition at home that Walsh said laid the foundation for his own, and the country's success on the world stage.
"When we played first-class cricket at home it was like a mini Test," he said.
"Can you imagine Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson against Viv Richards and Richie Richardson?
"Barbados had Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge.
"It was tough cricket."
Not only did that level of competition provide a fantastic launching pad, there was also no shortage of advice from the established players.
"For me, Malcolm Marshall always stands out. I think he was the most complete fast bowler I played with or against," Walsh said.
"I learnt a lot off him too, and he was never shy of giving advice, talking to me about match situations and stuff like that.
"Michael Holding played for the same club team (the Melbourne outfit in Jamaica) as me. I learnt a lot just by watching him and talking to him about the game.
"I didn't play with Andy Roberts, but I played against him at first-class level.
"He was probably the first guy who coached me and talked to me about fast bowling as a youngster."
Walsh is now among a handful of former stars who are passing on their knowledge to the current crop of young West Indies players.
Ambrose (bowling coach), Richardson (team manager) and Walsh (selector) are with the touring party, and happy to provide advice to the new generation.
"I started with all the experienced guys like Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall behind me," Walsh said.
"I learnt a lot from watching them in the nets and in matches. It was easy for me to fit in because of those guys.
"In practice they'd come and pass on some advice if they saw something wrong.
"I used to ask them questions time in and time out and get answers from them."
Hopefully the new players, headed by 24-year-old captain Jason Holder, a "veteran" of just 10 Tests, can get the answers they need to start the climb back up the world rankings.