Recently-knighted Curtly Ambrose speaks to mid-day on his latest honour and a rewarding cricketing career in a freewheeling interview
Leave alone being knighted, being a cricketer was unimaginable before 1983 for Curtly Ambrose (51), who as a 20-year-old didn’t take kindly to the fact that his cricket-loving mother had her transistor blaring in the Ambrose household at Swetes Village in Antigua.
Ambrose in full cry on the 1992-93 Australia tour. Pic/Getty Images.
Basketball and football were the only sports that mattered to the young Ambrose. Cricket was taken up only on the insistence of Hillie Ambrose, who later provided that wonderful story of her ringing a bell in the village each time her son claimed a Test wicket.
Curtly Ambrose is held back by captain Richie Richardson after a confrontation with Australia’s Steve Waugh during the third Test at Trinidad in 1995
Running out 405 times must have left the lady tired, but not worn out. Mrs Ambrose still lives in Swetes while her illustrious son has made Cedar Valley his home from where he spoke to mid-day a week after he was knighted along with fellow former greats – fast bowler Andy Roberts and batsman and captain Richie Richardson.
Excerpts from an interview:
How did you feel when you were knighted?
It is a huge honour. I feel very privileged to have been honoured by my country Antigua and Barbuda. I am really humbled. I never expected it; I wasn’t looking for it. My hardwork, my great work through many years has not gone unnoticed.
Are you comfortable with people calling you Sir Curtly Ambrose?
Being Sir doesn’t change who I am. Of course, it is a huge honour but I guess I have got to get used to people calling me Sir. You could call me Ambrose or Amby… it doesn’t make a difference to me.
Curtly Ambrose plays his bass guitar. Pic/Getty Images.
Which fast bowlers inspired you in the early years?
I did not have any early inspirations because cricket was not my first love. It was basketball and football so I never had any cricketing inspiration. I was self-taught.
Let’s talk about your seven wickets for one run against Australia in the Perth Test of 1993…
That was a day when I could do no wrong. I was in the zone and basically unstoppable and these things don’t happen very often in a lifetime. I enjoyed the moment… enjoyed it thoroughly and more importantly, we won the game and series. The result was critical.
Curtly Ambrose with his wife. Pic/Ravi Krishnan.
What kind of an influence did the late Malcolm Marshall have on you when you made it to the West Indies side?
We all know how great Marshall was – probably the greatest bowler West Indies produced. Being alongside Marshall and Courtney Walsh, I was always going to learn. These guys were great bowlers.
What was so special about Marshall?
Apart from his cricketing skills, he had a wonderful cricket brain and this complimented his skill. In my opinion he was the best we produced.
Do you regret not being able to play Test cricket in India?
I was injured (for the 1994 tour). I will not use the word ‘regret’ because when you are competing in sport, injuries can happen. I had not played a Test series in India and I was looking forward to the experience. Unfortunately, I was injured (rotator cuff injury on his shoulder) and I was a bit disappointed at missing out.
Would I sound unfair in asking you to name the best batsman you bowled to?
I have been asked this question many times and it’s a difficult one to answer. I was fortunate and privileged to play against a lot of great players and I’d prefer not to name one. It’s very difficult to pick.
Where would you put Sachin Tendulkar among the great players you bowled to?
He has to be one of the greatest batsmen ever to play this game – no two ways about it. He would be in my top five batsmen of all time.
A lot of bowlers admitted to feeling helpless when they battled with Tendulkar. What feeling did you have when you bowled to him?
It was always a big challenge. I relished the challenge of bowling to a great player. If you got him out cheaply, you’d have done a wonderful job and if he scored a hundred, you could say he played extremely well. It was always a good contest between us.
Do you realise that you didn’t get him out in Test cricket?
No, I didn’t know that. He was one of the toughest batsmen I bowled to. I have got a lot of respect for him and everything he achieved, he worked very hard for. He achieved so much, yet he is so humble and that to me, is a great quality.
You were never known to sledge batsmen, but you lost your cool with Steve Waugh in the Trinidad Test against Australia in 1995…
That happened in the heat of the moment. He and I exchanged a few words. It started on the pitch and ended right there. We never lost respect for each other. I never went on about it. Sledging was not part of my game. I didn’t play my cricket like that.
Music is another passion for you. Bass guitar to be exact…
We (the band) play three to four times a week. I enjoy watching bass players too. Any band I got to watch, I always focus on the bass player and see what I can pick up from him.
You said recently that you are realist when it comes to the future of West Indies cricket and that the glory days will never return…
I still maintain that. With all the cricketers I see now, they are not so talented, not as great as the players before them. I don’t see us getting back to those glory days. I am not saying we will not be number one again, but we will not see the kind of players we had before.
So, what do you hope for?
I wish to see West Indies cricket get better. I believe that when West Indies cricket is strong, it is good for world cricket. I just hope and pray that we get the right nucleus of players to take our cricket back to the top. It requires hardwork. We will have to make some changes to this team and start to blood some younger players so that in a few years’ time we are able to compete with the best teams.
Would you offer your services?
Of course. West Indies cricket made me a household name and I will be more than willing to do anything that I am asked for West Indies cricket. The cricket belongs to all of us and we need to ensure it prospers.
How much do you remember of the 1996 World Cup in the sub-continent?
I remember we lost to India (in Gwalior). We had India on the ropes with some early wickets, but Sachin Tendulkar was dropped by the wicketkeeper Courtney Brown (when he was on 22) and he went on to get 70 to win the game for India. We were defending a small total (173). Had we got Tendulkar, we would have won the game. He played a wonderful innings.
And the loss to Kenya at Pune?
It was heart-breaking. No one expected Kenya to beat us but that’s part of cricket. We played badly and we lost.
Ambrose in Tests