West Indies are not part of the Champions Trophy in England, but still have a representative in the tournament in one of their biggest ever names: Courtney Walsh. Walsh is the bowling coach of Bangladesh – a role he took up in September last year. Wisden India caught up with the former fast bowler for a chat on his role, the challenges that come with it and the ‘cruel’ world of bowling. Excerpts:
For most of the ‘90s kids, which includes the current Bangladesh bowlers, you were a hero. How did they react when you joined the set-up?
They have been very good. They were very happy for me to be a part of this set-up. The players and the coaching staff welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been very helpful; I’m just trying to pass on the knowledge that I have. I want to give the tips that I can to help the bowlers. I want to help them wherever I can, and to have a chance to work with the Bangladesh team that’s full of talent has been tremendous. I’m enjoying it, because at the end it’s the game that I will love till I’m alive.
Were the players overawed by your legendary status during your first interaction with them?
I wouldn’t say overawed is the right word. Everyone was just happy that I was a part of their set-up. Every now and then, some of the young cricketers would try and pick my brain, which was very good. For me, I just want to work with them to make sure they develop their cricket and we get better as a squad and as a unit.
I help everybody as much as I can but obviously I try and play a part in terms of fast bowling. I’m hoping we can find some fast bowlers – we have some very talented ones and we want them to get them to where we want them to be in a couple of months.
How did you bridge that gap between you and the youngsters? Do you joke around or are you a strict disciplinarian?
I’m strict, I joke around, I relax. I try to get as relaxed as I can because I think that’s the best way of getting the best out of them. But if things are not going the way they’re supposed to be going, then I will let them know. I’m always upfront and frank with them. If they’re having good days, I’ll tell them. If it’s not a good day, I’ll tell them. And if they’re not doing what they’re required to get their standard up, I’ll surely tell them what I mean.
I do as much as I can to ensure they have got a disciplined approach to what needs to be done and stay focused on the job.
You took over from Heath Streak, who had done the initial work in raising Bangladesh’s pace stocks. What was your biggest challenge coming in?
Heath Streak did a fantastic job with them while he was there, and I’m trying to continue that trend. I’m just trying to improve them to get as best as they can to support Bangladesh cricket, because at the end of the day what we want to do is to win games. The whole coaching staff is together and focused on that part and if I can do my part, I’ll be very happy.
My biggest challenge, I think, has so far been the cultural stuff. In terms of making sure they understand what I’m saying. The language barrier has been my biggest challenge. I’ve managed to cope with it and they’ve helped me pretty well. It’s good that I identified the language barrier quickly. I get help from some of the guys who translate or speak to the young guys to let them know what’s happening, so that there is a common understanding on what we’re trying to do. It’s just work in progress and you try to improve on that day by day.
Do you talk about working in pairs, like you did with Curtly Ambrose?
Yes, that’s the stand that I keep telling everybody – that fast bowlers hunt in pairs. All good bowlers hunt in pairs. If you look at the history of cricket, there’s Warne-McGrath, Holding-Roberts, Marshall-Garner, Lillee-Thomson, Akram-Younis… This is just to name a few. Every team had those types of bowlers who hunted in pairs.
It’s something I speak to them about and we’re working towards it. It doesn’t have to be two fast bowlers – two spinners would do too. If we can get them to work in such pairs, it’ll bring the results for Bangladesh cricket.
Have you identified any such pair in the team?
There’s a lot of talented cricketers around. Young Taskin (Ahmed) and Mehedi (Hasan) are there. Shafiul (Islam) and Rubel (Hossain) are still around. The captain (Mashrafe Mortaza) has obviously just retired from T20s but he’s still a very good bowler. And young Mustafizur (Rahman). If he and Taskin can build up a relationship in 10 years, work together in pairs as two seamers, and if Mehedi can come along and join them, it will be great. They know what they have to do and are working towards it and also building their own personal game.
Is the next big task for Bangladesh to find an express fast bowler?
It is tough. It’s not a small task but I think we have the ability – Taskin is one such guy who has the potential and the possibility of doing that. It’s just work in progress with him, we have to see how we can best develop him and his skills.
Is world cricket a cruel place for bowlers today?
Well, with all the rules, regulations and changes, it probably is. But it gives you a chance to practise your other skills. It’s something that you just have to work with and the guys will have to make the adjustments and see how best they can hone skills and execute.
You just have to keep motivating them. It’s a job, it’s a skill, and it’s something you have to love and enjoy. We try to encourage the bowlers to have fun and enjoy what they are doing while keeping on working hard. It’s never easy out there. Every now and then, you might get a surface that you like, but with the rules and regulations now, everything is in favour of the batsmen. So as a bowler, you just have to work twice as hard.
If you were a bowler in this era, how would you have gone?
It’s still a challenge, I would take up the challenge and I would still be working for it. I never quit when I played, I would just treat it as another challenge and practise something else, develop some other skills to try and outfox the batsmen.
Do you agree with the perception that the quality of fast bowling has declined since your days?
I don’t agree with it. I think there are some very good young fast bowlers out there. But because of the tracks, maybe they are not able to do the job as consistently as they would have liked to or as it ought to be done.
If you look around, there’s this young lad from South Africa (Kagiso Rabada), there’s (Mitchell) Starc from Australia, (Umesh) Yadav from India, (Dale) Steyn before he got injured… There are a lot of fast bowlers who have the quality and stats, so I wouldn’t say that. I’m just thinking that because of the tracks, they don’t get a chance to perform as consistently as they could or should. But there are still a hell a lot of young, good fast bowlers out there.
You must then be pleased with the latest rule restricting bat sizes…
Anything that helps improve the game of cricket, I’ll welcome. We’ll have to see how that works out for us. But I think it’s good to be striking a right balance between bat and ball, and make sure it’s not out of proportion. Let’s see where that goes.
Finally, do you miss West Indies in the Champions Trophy?
Well, it would have been good for them to be here. Obviously, from a West Indian point of view, it would have been good to see the West Indies to show their skills in a world tournament. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. They’ve got to pick up the pieces and try to get into the World Cup in 2019. World cricket likes to see West Indies around but they’ve still got to do what it takes.