It never happened to him before. In all his days playing cricket, Sunil Ambris has never trod on his stumps. Until, that is, his first ball of his first Test. Against New Zealand in Wellington, when turning a short ball from Neil Wagner to leg, the batsman jumped back too far and was out, hit wicket.
Those watching on television heard the sound, amplified, as it was, by stump microphones. The batsman would’ve heard it too. And It must have been one of the most horrible he has ever heard.
It was a “freak dismissal,” said coach Stuart Law, who added that there is no way the batsman would do something like that again. But then he did. And it didn’t take him long either. In the very next game, his second, Ambris again went too far back in turning a ball to leg, this time it was from Trent Boult.
Hats off to West Indies' Sunil Ambris: out twice hit wicket in three Test innings
— Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) December 10, 2017
He was horrified when he realized what he had done. For a moment, before trudging off, he stood motionless, seemingly confused. He then motioned his arms slightly upwards, as if seeking some rationalization from somewhere.
Everyone at the ground, his opponents on the field included, must have felt even a modicum of empathy for the young batsman. One can only imagine the thoughts flooding through his mind during his lonely walk back to the pavilion.
Since Ambris has never been dismissed hit wicket before these questions immediately come to mind: Why now? And why has he gotten out in this fashion twice in three innings?
★ Sunil Ambris
— Johns. (@CricCrazyJohns) December 10, 2017
These may be difficult questions to answer. The batsman appeared to be as nonplussed as everyone else. Perhaps after some quiet reflection or after discussion with his coaches and colleagues, he might settle on an explanation. One thing is certain: unless he is the most unperturbable man in the world, he will be thinking about keeping his legs away from his stumps the next time he takes strike.
Test cricket is a tough, unforgiving game. The best indicator that one might be successful when promoted to a higher level is one’s performance at the lower level. For Test cricket, it is a player’s performance in first-class cricket that is normally used as a reference.
But it is never a sure thing. Great performances at the first-class level don’t always translate to great, or even decent performances in Tests. And history is replete with instances of players who thrived in first-class cricket only to fail miserably when given an opportunity in Tests.
As Zimbabwean born Graeme Hick waited to qualify to play for England he made runs for fun representing Worcestershire. Indications were, as he ran up hundred after hundred, that he’d have a long and productive test career. But as he flitted in and out of the England team over the years, suffering disappointment after disappointment, nothing he did turned him into a consistently good player at the highest level.
And there is former England batsman Mark Ramprakash as well. Seen as a supremely talented batsman from his youth, Ramprakash was expected to have a great career. And he did. He played at the first-class level for something like 25 years and averaged 53.14 with all of 114 centuries.
Yet he never quite made it at the Test level, averaging a measly 27.32 in 52 tests. Former England captain Michael Vaughan remarked that though he couldn’t get it right mentally in the international game he was “the best technician the English game has had in the last 20 years.” And another former captain, Alec Stewart, opined that Ramprakash was the finest county batsman of his generation.
Like Hick, Ramprakash didn’t handle the pressure of the international game well. The much less intense atmosphere of county cricket better suited his outlook and so there he thrived. At the international level, he tried too hard, cared too much and was less successful. In other words, his mental make-up never facilitated a successful Test career.
This is in no way a slander on Hick and Ramprakash. We are all different with different characteristics and different strength and weaknesses. And this is not to liken Ambris to Hick or Ramprakash either. The St. Vincentian is only in his second Test. He has a far way to go and has every opportunity to develop into an excellent batsman at Test level. The point is that most players, including many of those loaded with talent, undergo serious scrutiny when they enter the Test-match arena. The game at the highest level is a test, not only of skill but also of one’s mental disposition.
The examination can be daunting, often bringing to the fore weaknesses they never knew they had. Neither Ambris nor his coaches would have known of his tendency to trample on his stumps. But the bright and burning glare of Test cricket has now revealed that flaw. He and his coaches now have something new to work on – something, I’m sure, that never occurred to them before. The good news for the batsman is that this problem should not be something too difficult to rectify.