You come, take the guard and walk back. That was the unspoken law for batters facing former West Indies great Courtney Andrew Walsh. Those who committed the cardinal sin of touching their willow with a Walsh delivered cricket cherry knew of the consequences. A Rated PG treatment of the highest order. The few who still dared to do it, earned a reputation like no other in the sport’s history.
And so, when former England football legend, Gary Lineker stood up for the task, he had a choice to make. One that he shared recently on BBC Test Match special.
The best sporting day ever!
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) August 18, 2022
The 1986 World Cup highest goal scorer told the story of being invited by David English to play a charity match where his paths crossed with one of the most elusive fast bowlers in cricket’s history.
“He (David) called me on the Sunday night,” Lineker said on BBCTMS. “He said, ‘Gary, couple of pull outs….I’m a bit short. I need a face’. I said, ‘I can’t play tomorrow, Dave…I’ve got a match tomorrow night…I cannot play’.”
With Lineker turning English down on another request, the latter proposed him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He said, ‘What about if you turn up, you bat first, open the batting…when you are out, you can go?’,” Lineker told, further expressing how tempting a gig he felt that was. That feeling however, would meet the part called reality once the professional footballer got to know who’d bowl him the first over.
“So I get in, and Courtney Walsh is bowling the first over,” he said with the commentary box including Sir Alastair Cook having a big laugh.
He continues, “It’s a decent track and Courtney…he does a long run up and there’s the deliberate silly bouncer that goes about 10 feet over my head for a bit of fun.”
Mortals wouldn’t think twice before opting for a favorite in the battle of a 5’8” professional football batting against a 6’4” professional cricket quick. This, wasn’t one for the betting books though. Lineker had thrown that possibility out when he had said to the man at the other end, “Courtney, will you bowl me a proper over?”.
The 61-year-old agrees he was ‘completely mad’ to do so. About a 100 others including his former countryman Robin Smith would agree.
Walsh however, didn’t try to kill the then Tottenham Hotspur striker, bowling quick but pitching the following four deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty around the off-stump. It is here Lineker would make a choice, one incomprehensible to this day, 21 years after Walsh last played a match for the West Indies.
“Last ball of the over I thought alright, ‘I know where he’s bowling, I’ll take a bit of chance’. I put my foot down and I went boom and it went straight through the covers for four,” he said.
You shouldn’t do that. You cannot do that. Not against Courtney Walsh. The most likely of the outcome would’ve been Lineker walking back to the pavilion shortly, courtesy Courtney. But we need to hold our horses, for there’s more to this unbelievable tale.
“I ended up 112 not out at lunch,” Lineker has the commentary box breaking into a laughter again, of a different kind this time. “I’m sweating buckets and I said, ‘Dave, I got to go’. He said, ‘Mate, you’ve done me proud’. So I went to Tottenham and score a hattrick.”
“That’s a ridiculous double.”
“Best day of my sporting life,” said the professional footballer who scored an unbeaten hundred against a Courtney Walsh team and then went to score a hattrick for Spurs.
Best day of any sporting life probably.