Hayden Walsh jr stands only 5’7” in his socks. But since last October, he has been steadily rising to the challenge of being a West Indian cricketer at last. But no matter how high he climbs, even if he were a 6’4” Alzarri Joseph or a 6’7” Jason Holder or Curtly Ambrose or even a 6’8” Joel Garner, it would presumably make little difference.
While he remains an active player, there is a sense in which he can never get close enough for his liking to the other Hayden Walsh, who now watches over him from above.
10 January 2010
The uniformed policeman who turns up at his gate declines to share his business with the almost 18-year-old Hayden Rashidi Walsh. Completely innocent of the grave tidings the officer bears, Junior directs him to his grandmother.
It is not long before she summons her grandson.
“Your father,” she announces, “is dead.”
For a moment, Junior is overcome. The shock of the completely unexpected news of Albert Hayden Costayne ‘Sharlo’ Walsh’s untimely death after a heart attack in a swimming pool is too much for him. Walsh Senior was his whole world.
9 JANUARY 2020
The doughty Irish are cock-a-hoop, confident that the Second ODI is in the bag. The openers are gone, master blasters Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran are gone. Now power-hitter Pollard is gone, surrendering tamely in the face of a Barry McCarthy lifter than got too big on him.
Chasing 238 for a series-clinching second win, WI find themselves struggling at 148 for 7.
The home side are expecting to win this game and go into Sunday’s final ODI not at 1-1 but 2-1 up. Walsh jr is going to have to do it with the tail.
For ten overs, he and fellow left-hander Khary Pierre keep out everything Ireland skipper Andy Balbirnie and his bowlers can throw at them. They edge ever closer to the target.
But at 200 in over #39, Pierre departs. Eight down. Only two to go. And 38 still needed.
Number 10, Alzarri Joseph, has already contributed with the ball, his 4 for 32 a repeat of his return in Tuesday’s first game. He’s going to have to do more.
Standing up, wicketkeeper Lorcan Tucker fails to pouch an edge. Walsh jr survives. Somebody, he thinks, is looking out for me.
So no compromise, no surrender…until over number 48. Consecutive lofted straight drives back over the bowler’s head would have made the orthodox Shai Hope proud; that makes the requirement six off 16 balls.
But Joseph’s solid pull off ball three, short but slower, ends up in short-midwicket’s safe clutches. If it is to happen, it will have to be with number 11.
Twice in the last over, Mark Adair uncharacteristically mishandles; Sheldon Cottrell is not even in the frame. The number 11 gets safely home—thanks to DRS in the first instance, by the skin of his teeth in the second.
The fifth ball is pitched up. Cottrell clobbers it over wide long-off. It is over.
For 67 balls, Junior has defied the disciplined Irish attack. At the end, he is within a single boundary of a half-century which would have been worth its weight in 100-carat gold.
How did he do it? He explains that it was the date—January 10—and an invisible presence, maybe a quiet voice, whispering amid the stunned silence of Kensington Oval.
It’s not news that cricket runs in the Walsh blood; Vaughn, an uncle, has also represented the Leeward Islands. The closeness of the relationship between father, a former left-handed batsman with Test ambitions, and son, a current right-arm bowler/left-handed batsman with Test ambitions, is not news either. Who does not now know that it was the Antigua and Barbuda-born Hayden Walsh snr who early introduced Junior to the game?
In the years before the 2011-12 season, when the 19-year-old first earned a place on the Leeward Islands team, Senior had forced ample streams of sweat off his USVI-born offspring’s brow. But there was more than perspiration.
“[My dad] taught me how to stand up when the chips are down,” he told a reporter. “Maybe that’s why I play like that. Instead of giving me 100 drills, 100 pulls, 100 drives, 100 sweeps, he taught me a lot of mental toughness.”
Shades of Tiger Woods.
“How often,” post-match interviewer Ian Bishop once inquired of Junior on camera, “do you think about your father?”
“Every day. I think about him,” came the reply—and, in mid-response, the tears—“every day.”
Blood, sweat and tears. Important, necessary even. But sufficient for success? Perhaps, perhaps not.
To 90% perspiration, says conventional wisdom, add 10% inspiration, and success will come your way. But those percentages only finally came together for Junior last year after almost a decade of sweating in the regional wilderness.
In April, he would eventually represent the USA in an ICC qualifying tournament. It was there that he perhaps got the first compelling evidence that he did indeed have the wherewithal to make the grade in international cricket. That was when one Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, who had seen him doing more than hold his own playing for the Vancouver Knights in the 2019 Global T20 Canada tournament, dubbed him ‘a potential superstar’.
Walsh is not unaware of what that could mean. Nor is he unaware that a journalist’s opinion guarantees him nothing. His head may sometimes be in the sky but his feet remain firmly on the ground. He will have, he knows only too well, to earn his stripes.
So, he told the reporter, he has been making every effort to learn all he can from speaking to some of the spin bowlers with whom he has been rubbing shoulders during the tournament.
“The big lesson for me is to just be myself,” he says. “Backing yourself to bowl the best ball is the key here. I speak to other leg-spinners and take some pointers from them but I must use whatever works for me.
“Mostly I try to deceive the batsman in flight and skid it on with little extra pace. My action is a little different from [New Zealand’s] Ish [Sodhi] and [Pakistan’s] Shadab [Khan]. I try and dip the ball a little bit more. I’m a quicker bowler. If the batsman hits it, you can’t do much about it.”
“I’ve been working hard on my way to the top of international cricket,” he tells another reporter. “And just to be here to perform in a game is, well, I’m over the moon.”
But Walsh jr had not exactly blazed a trail in his first few internationals. He snared six wickets for 237 runs in seven innings and, with the bat, managed a meagre 31 runs off 37 balls in two outings. In Tuesday’s first ODI against Ireland, he registered decent figures of 10-0-30-2 and followed that up on Thursday by conceding an unimpressive 8-0-47-0—including five fours and one six!—when Ireland batted.
But many of those who celebrated wildly after Cottrell’s six took WI home were most likely ignorant of one important little detail: although it was his exploits as a leg-spinner that earned him a West Indies call-up, Junior was no mug with the bat.
Representing Jamaica in the regional competition in the 2013-14 season, he had come within 14 runs of a first-class century. And while still representing the USA against Papua New Guinea in early 2019, the leg-spinner had batted at number 6 and managed 27 off 35 balls, an innings that included four fours.
But after that tournament, he completed a successful CPL season with the Tridents and threw his lot in with Pollard’s West Indies.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE for the second and final instalment of columnist Earl Best’s two part series on West Indies leg spinner Hayden Walsh jr.