Despite being a player on the regional scene since the 2011-12 season, Hayden Walsh jr had never really knocked on the selection door before the middle of the 2019 CPL season. In the third game of his debut regional season, he had impressed with returns of 4 for 47 against T&T. In the following years, though, little else from him qualified for the highlight reel.
Last year, however, despite playing only nine of the 12 games as a leg-spinner for eventual champions Barbados Tridents, he finished the tournament with a league-topping 22 wickets at an average of 12.68.
And a well-deserved reputation as a top-drawer fieldsman.
Even if others had failed to take note of or to remember this last detail, the newly appointed West Indies white ball skipper was certain not to. In the CPL qualifier between the Tridents and Kieron Pollard’s TKR, it was Junior’s deft pick-up and pinpoint accurate throw to wicketkeeper Shai Hope that had cut short the TKR skipper’s innings. Some argue that that effectively put paid to the home side’s chances of securing a hat-trick of CPL titles.
The ‘live’ description bears repeating here:
Stunned silence from the Trinidad crowd. (…) elation in the blue camp. This was a short slower delivery, which was under-edged towards square leg. Prasanna (…) took a bit of time to take off for the run. Pollard wanted two. Prasanna put his arm out to stop him but he didn’t have enough time to turn and get back.
Throw was close to the sticks and the keeper did the rest.
But Junior’s outstanding fielding was but a bonus. Certainly, he had done his West Indies selection chances no harm when, in the two Tridents’ group games against TKR, he recorded satisfying figures of 4-0-19-5—accounting for numbers four to eight—and 4-0-34-2, topped off by his 4-0-33-2—and crucial run-out!—in the qualifier.
He had at last caught the selectors’ eyes and they could no longer reasonably avert their gaze. Especially after he went on to snare the big fish in the final, dismissing the super-consistent Amazon Warriors’ captain Shoaib Malik for 4!
The previous year, he had campaigned with the Chris Gayle-led St Kitts/Nevis Patriots but had remained largely anonymous, certainly unnoticed. Having already plied his finger-spinning trade for the Leeward Islands and now in the more high-profile CPL with STKNP, Junior did not, as he might have hoped if not expected, ever get a look-in. Not until Pollard took over the reins in late 2019.
Why did it take so long? Why was he kept waiting in the wings for almost a decade?
Two of the principal reasons are obvious: by name, Devendra Bishoo and Samuel Badree. These two right-arm wrist-spinners were deemed to be performing at the required level. Bishoo, a Guyanese, began his WI senior team life in 2011 as a promising leg-spinner. After a good long run and without ever setting the spinning world on fire despite his 117 Test wickets, he ended his regional career as little more than a promising spinner in 2019.
Centre-stage was often shared with T&T’s Samuel Badree, a key part of the WI white ball squads which brought home the 2012 and 2016 World T20 titles and let the 2014 one get away. Badree ritually opened the bowling, rarely allowing himself to be hit out of the attack despite the fielding restrictions that apply in the first powerplay.
If Junior ever develops to the point where Pollard can call on him in the way that Badree’s captains have used the T&T schoolteacher, he will have gone a long way along the road to justifying Siddhartha Vaidyanathan’s ‘potential superstar’ tag.
On Sunday, with Pollard’s men seeking a third consecutive win to complete the whitewash, he took a big step along that road. With half the innings completed and Ireland making slow progress on 79 for 3, the skipper summoned his wrist-spinner to partner Roston Chase, his finger-spinning counterpart. Walsh produced his best performance yet in the format, claiming 4 for 36 off his ten overs.
Truth be told, Pollard has justifiably so far not been entirely satisfied with the Walsh who has been showing up. On Sunday, however, the captain did not only require him to bowl his full allotment of 10 overs; he would also have been greatly delighted with the contrast between his first spell (5-0-25-1) and his second (5-0-11-3) from the other end.
Pollard would presumably also have been overjoyed at the way the leg-spinner dismissed Lorcan Tucker, bowled off-stump through the gate by a googly that he never read.
Noteworthy too was the almost complete absence of boundary balls—in all, he conceded two fours in his first over and one more in his fifth—as well as wides and no-balls, of which there were none.
Now, as Pollard’s squad prepares to bid to replicate its 3-0 sweep in the T20Is which bowled off in Grenada on Wednesday, Walsh can rest assured that his place in the squad is secure. The ambidextrous 27-year-old knows that, from here on in, consistent performances will probably be enough to ensure a place in the squad selected to defend the WI’s T20 World Cup title in Australia in October/November.
But Junior might have had cause for concern were Dave Cameron still at the helm of the CWI. He was still in the process of claiming his first ODI four-wicket return on Sunday afternoon when the television commentary cut away to the nets somewhere behind the media box.
Daren Ganga had deemed it necessary and urgent to inform viewers that he was “wit Kissoondat Magram, a bowler from Trinidad and Tobago,” who, “on the recommendation of Nicholas Pooran,” had been added to the squad “to provide more practice against leg-spin.”
In the event, Junior can rest easy for now. A 13-member squad for the Ireland T20s was announced at the end of the game, the injured Keemo Paul’s replacement still unnamed. It featured five new faces, including Lendl Simmons and the recalled Dwayne Bravo from T&T. No other Trinidadian was added. Not Kissoondath or any other Magram. And I would be prepared to wager that the only place Magram now comes before Walsh is in an alphabetical list.
But the list that ultimately matters to Walsh jr is the one that will emerge when Pollard, coach Phil Simmons and Lead Selector Roger Harper sit down to make their final choices for Australia at year’s end. For all its weighty significance for Hayden Walsh jr, 10 January 2010 will not enter the reckoning.
I’d wager too that the significance of the date 21 June 1975 is lost on none of the three. Current or former West Indies players all, none had the good fortune to play in that 1975 World Cup final at Lord’s. But who dares dispute that they all are well aware of how heavily that day’s proceedings were influenced by the contribution of one player, IVA Richards, who made no impact with bat or ball?
So all things being equal, none of them is likely to omit from the Australia squad an ambidextrous all-rounder who has the potential to on his own effect three run-outs.
And who arguably, besides, has a cricketing guardian looking after him from on high.