The gigantic, fantastic, elastic Sir Curtly Ambrose speaks to Jo Harman and recalls the spells that still make grown men shudder.
THE RELUCTANT STAR
Growing up I was always more of a basketball and football player than a cricketer. Cricket was never my first love but my mother is a fanatic and she was the driving force behind my career. She always wanted a cricketer in the family and when my older brother migrated to the States, I was second in line. I only started playing club cricket in 1984 and within four short years I was playing for the West Indies. My mother was so pleased to have a cricketer in the family and I guess that’s why she celebrated in the way she did [his mother Hellie would run out of their house in the village of Swetes and ring a bell every time Curtly took a Test wicket, day or night].
THE OZ EXPERIENCE
5-17 | West Indies v Australia, B&H World Series, Melbourne, 1988
I’ve always believed that Australia is the hardest tour. It is such a long way from the Caribbean and very expensive to travel to so you don’t get too many West Indies supporters out there – you’re all on your own against the Australians. It’s a test of your character and if you’re not strong enough mentally, you will fail. It always gave me the most pleasure beating Australia in Australia and to take five wickets in a one-day international is always something special because you’ve only got 10 overs to bowl, unlike Test cricket when you have more than enough time to take a five-fer.
THE BRIDGETOWN BLITZ
2-82 & 8-45 | West Indies v England, 4th Test, Barbados, 1990
We were 1-0 down in the series with a final game to come at Antigua so we had to win this one if we were going to take the series. We were under tremendous pressure. Jack Russell was being very stubborn and difficult to dislodge and I remember Sir Viv taking the second new ball and handing it to me. I bowled Russell, with one that kept a bit low I should add, and that was it. There was no stopping us and we went on to win at Antigua to take the series. It was a special moment in the context of the series, in a match that we had to win, and it was very pleasing for me.
THE BAJAN BOYCOTT
2-47 & 6-34 | West Indies v South Africa, Only Test, Barbados, 1992
The locals boycotted the game because they thought Anderson Cummins should have played instead of Kenny Benjamin so we basically had no support. We found ourselves in serious trouble with South Africa needing about 80 runs on the last morning of the game with eight wickets in hand. They were a bunch of rookies, only Kepler Wessels had played Test cricket before, and we were the world’s number one team – we couldn’t afford to lose. Courtney Walsh and myself had to dig really, really deep and we came out that morning saying we weren’t going to lose. We bowled in tandem throughout that final day and won by 50-odd runs. Our confidence took us over the line.
THE WRISTBAND WRATH
5-32 | West Indies v Australia, B&H World Series, Sydney, 1993
Dean Jones asked the umpire that I remove my white wristbands and I couldn’t understand why because it was nothing new. I always wore them. Always. I wasn’t happy about it – I figured it was a stupid request, to be frank – and I said I wasn’t going to take them off. It was crazy. Our captain Richie Richardson persuaded me to do it but I was furious. Up to that point I’d been bowling within myself because it was a one-day game and I was keeping things tight but then I started bowling a lot quicker. I really wanted to make Jones uncomfortable. We won the game quite easily. I understand the Australian dressing room weren’t happy with Jones for riling me up!
6-74 & 4-46 | West Indies v Australia, 4th Test, Adelaide, 1993
This was a really great Test match. I have to say we should have won the game long before it got so close. An lbw shout went against us when Kenny Benjamin was bowling and had, I think, Damien Martyn plum in front and the umpire said not out. Anyhow, it went right down to the wire and we ended up winning by one run. To win was really something special because the last game was going to be in Perth and the West Indies had never lost a Test match there. Australia knew they were in real trouble when they lost this one.
THE MAGIC SPELL
7-25 & 2-54 | West Indies v Australia, 5th Test, Perth, 1993
I’ve bowled much better. A lot of people would look at those figures and that spell of 7-1 and maybe think it was my best ever performance, but the pitch was conducive to fast bowling really and I wouldn’t say it was my best spell. Yes, it was a tough spell, and a spell of 7-1 is unheard of really, but I believe I’ve bowled better in other games and not got the same rewards. We ended up winning the game by an innings inside three days to take the series 2-1.
THE DEMOLITION JOB
5-60 & 6-24 | West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Trinidad, 1994
I believe my 6-24 to bowl England out here was better than the 7-1 spell at Perth. At Perth, we’d bowled first and weren’t under any real pressure. In this match the whole context of the game was different – we knew we needed to bowl them out. England required 190-odd and they had the whole final day and 15 overs on the afternoon of the fourth day to do it, so they had more than enough time. Unfortunately for England, they lost eight wickets for 40 runs on the fourth afternoon so the game was basically all over.
THE WORLD CUP REGRET
2-26 | West Indies v Australia, World Cup semi-final, Mohali, 1996
I had some wonderful times, both personally and as part of the West Indies team, but the only regret in my career is that I wanted to win the World Cup and that didn’t happen. We got to the semi-finals in the ’96 World Cup when we lost to Australia by five runs. That was really, really hard to take because I thought we had the game won and then we fell apart at the end. That was the only piece of the puzzle that was missing from my career. But you can’t win them all!
THE OVAL SIGN-OFF
2-38 & 1-36 | West Indies v England, 5th Test, The Oval, 2000
I had made it known before I got to England that this series was going to be my last. The whole world knew so I wouldn’t say it was particularly emotional until the England players caught me by surprise by doing a guard of honour. I never expected it and it showed me that the England guys had appreciated my work over the years and what I’d done for cricket. It was certainly time for me to go. I believe I had a wonderful career and left a mark on the cricket stage. I was hoping that the young fast bowlers we had in our team would step up to the plate and carry things on but sadly that didn’t happen.
Curtly Ambrose is an ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda. For more information go to visitantiguabarbuda.com