Copyright AFP 2001
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Port of Spain: West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh said relief was one of his main emotions after he became the first bowler in cricket history to take 500 Test wickets when he trapped South African batsman Jacques Kallis lbw here at the Queen's Park Oval."Its been very draining," said Walsh. "Ive been thinking about this since the beginning of the series," the 38-year-old added. Now, said Walsh, he wanted to concentrate on helping his team win the second Test and the five-match series against South Africa.South African fast bowling star Allan Donald paid tribute to his great rival. "I have always been a great admirer of you, the way you have conducted yourself and the way you have stayed humble," he told Walsh.One of the first messages of congratulation to reach Walsh was from the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Percival Patterson, who said Walsh had set an example of discipline, professional and teamwork for all the people of the Caribbean.Walsh, playing in his 129th Test match which is also a record for a specialist bowler, reached the milestone when he took two wickets in three balls in South Africa's second innings of the second Test.Opener Gary Kirsten was his 499th victim when he edged a cut to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs, prompting police to move into position to prevent a possible crowd invasion.They did not have long to wait as Kallis became wicket number 500 when he was lbw to a ball which cut back at him to reach the magical mark at an overall average of 24.67 runs.Walsh ran down the pitch with his arms raised in triumph and was engulfed by his teammates. It was yet another record for a player whose achievements owe as much to stamina as they do to natural ability. Although he hasn't officially announced his retirement, it is accepted that the series against South Africa will be his last.His triumph on Monday ensured the remaining three Test matches, in Barbados, Antigua and his home country, Jamaica, will be an extended valedictory for one of the most respected men in cricket. But he said afterwards he had not definitely decided to retire."I will try to get through the series and get a series win for the West Indies, then I will go home, have a long break and think about it," he said.Walsh took 28,833 deliveries, more than 1,000 more than anyone else has sent down, to break into statistical territory that for generations was thought to be out of reach.Walsh said there was one landmark he had not achieved."I have never taken five wickets in an innings here, so that is something I want to do in this match," he said. With eight South African wickets standing, it is an ambition within his reach.When Walsh played in his first Test match in November 1984 he was a gangly 22-year-old, who backed up the great fast bowling trio of the late Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding. Walsh didn't even get to bowl in his first Test innings as Australia were shot out for 76 on a bouncy pitch in Perth.He got a turn in the second innings, though, when Graeme Wood was caught in the slips by Richie Richardson, the first of a whos who of international batsmen who have fallen victim to one of the most skilful practitioners of line and length bowling the game has known. Early in his career, Walsh was a workhorse, the man who bowled into the wind and kept the batsmen quiet while the strike bowlers attacked. But when the production line of West Indian fast bowlers dried up, Walsh became a kingpin.Throughout the 1990s, it was Walsh and recently-retired Curtly Ambrose who carried the attack for their side.Walsh has never been an express bowler with the pace of a Marshall or a Holding but his height and an easy, rhythmical action enable him to generate steep bounce.His unremitting accuracy and ability to bowl long spells have become legendary. A vicious inducker has been his stock wicket-taking delivery. "I just try to look after myself," he told journalists in January at the end of his fifth and final tour of Australia. "I try to listen to my body and work along with it. One of the main things is that I enjoy competing against the opposition and I enjoy trying to do a job for the team. Once I'm enjoying both it makes the job a lot easier." Walsh has gradually been clocking up the milestones, which lead to cricketing immortality. It took him 80 matches to reach 300 wickets in England in 1995, making him the tenth man to join the "300 club".Then he became the all-time leading wicket-taker for the West Indies, overtaking Marshall's record of 376 during the first Test against South Africa in 1998/99. His next target was Kapil Devs world mark of 434 and he achieved it in his 114th Test a year ago, amid emotional scenes in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica, when Henry Olonga, Zimbabwes last batsman, was caught at short leg. Walsh has taken five wickets in an innings 21 times, with a best of seven for 37 against New Zealand in Wellington in 1994/95. He has taken 10 wickets in a match three times. New honours seem sure to be bestowed on a man who has been awarded the Order of Jamaica, been given a gift of land by Patterson and who travels on a diplomatic passport with the official designation of Ambassador at large.