“His forte was unerring accuracy and disconcerting bounce off the surface. When on song, he rolled over teams entirely”.
Who would have thought that a man whose father was a carpenter would drop his interest in basketball to become one of the best bowlers of his generation? Who would have thought that a man of few words would scare batsmen with a single glare?
Oh, that glare!
Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, who is among the most destructive bowlers cricket has ever seen, used to traumatize batsmen with his accurate line and length. He had no history of cricket in his family. Yet, his passion was somehow driven from his mother’s interest in cricket. She encouraged him to participate in this beautiful sport and he did not fail to grab the attention of coaches and cricket teams which helped him to make his first class debut with Leeward Island in 1985. The first-class career of Ambrose was a real charm. In a match against Guyana, he took 12 wickets, out of which 9 were bowled.
After being awarded a Vivian Richard Scholarship, he started playing for Chester Boughton Hall Cricket Club in 1986 and took 84 wickets in the season. But Ambrose was yet to debut in the international arena and when that materialised he turned into a dreaded nightmare for batsmen.
According to Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Ambrose never lost his hunger for wickets and he proved it several times, most notably in an outrageous spell against Australia where he took seven wickets. Wait for it! He took those 7 wickets by conceding a single run.
He turned into a bowler who would crush the top of the batting line-up, hunt down the head and target the soft belly. In short, he did it all. He devoured batsmen for fun. He sucked in teams for fun. He didn’t need to say a word. When the ball came at injury-scaring pace from nearly 10 feet high, words were unimportant. A stare from Ambrose was the death knell for most batsmen.
His forte was unerring accuracy and disconcerting bounce off the surface. When on song, he rolled over teams entirely. His spell against England at Kensington Oval, against Australia at the WACA, against England at Port-of-Spain all showcased him in his most fiery avatar.
His ability to cripple opposition by targeting the best in the side is evident from his wicket tally – Of his 405 Test dismissals, he got Michael Atherton 17 times, Steve Waugh 11, Mark Taylor and Allan Border nine times each.
Interestingly, all of them are captains which reveal the manner in which Ambrose goes about his business. Dale Steyn’s “head of the snake” jibe at Steven Smith two years ago perhaps stemmed from Ambrose’s relentless attack on skippers, though the West Indian barely needs words to work his magic.
“I do not think I put fear into the opposition batsmen around the world; that certainly was not the intention. The thing with me is I am a highly competitive individual and it is all about my team. For all the years that I played cricket with Courtney Walsh whenever we bowled well it automatically lifted the team, so our role as bowlers was very important to the West Indian team. Yes we are tall men who could bowl pretty quick and we could generate extra bounce, so it was never easy for batsmen to negotiate Courtney and me. However some batsmen negotiated us, but they had to be at their best to come out on top. When a batsman made a hundred against us, you knew for sure he has earned those runs. Perhaps some batsmen were intimidated but I can definitely say we never made it easy for batsmen and they knew they had been in a battle against us,” Ambrose once said.
The fear factor alone makes him a bowler to adore and admire. Like he said, when a bowler can’t get through a batsman, atleast make him work hard for his runs. In that regard, Ambrose was a miser. He barely let go a loose delivery. He barely let batsmen off the hook.
“I never felt the need to offer too much advice to batsmen when I was bowling. In fact, I hardly felt the need to say anything to batsmen. Likewise, the batsmen who were facing me did not have much to say to me either,” Ambrose says. When the ball comes through such sinewy arms from way above the eyeline and at lightning speed, you barely need to talk. With Ambrose, batsmen knew who was dominating without a war of words.
It is the loss of the current generation of cricket fans that this man is less remembered as a legendary fast bowler. It is strange that he often doesn’t get enough credit for his exceptional contributions to the game of cricket. In an ideal world, the list of legendary cricketers who walked the field would include Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, the silent assassin of Cricket, near the top.