Basketball will never know what it let slip. In the Caribbean, where the behemoth of American sports lingers, it would have been very difficult for a teenager to say no to a lucrative basketball deal in the USA.
One such teenager was almost swept in, but luckily, he listened to his mother (Millie Ambrose) who advised a career in cricket. This teenager would go on to become the colossus of West Indies bowling in the ‘90s.
Curtly Ambrose, the giant who spoke very rarely, is another product of the long assembly line of West Indies bowlers. At a height of six feet, seven inches, armed with a high arm action, Ambrose could get the ball to bounce at pace. As the years wore on, those supple wrists were used to bowl immaculate line and lengths with some seam movement.
Ambrose started off his career playing first-class cricket for the Leeward Islands in 1985/ 86. After this stint, he was given a scholarship to play club cricket in England. He played for the Liverpool league and Central Lancashire league where he picked up tons of wickets. The experiences in the leagues helped Ambrose fine-tune his bowling technique.
He made an impact in ODI cricket during the 1987/88 series against Pakistan. In three games, he picked up 10 wickets at an average of 10.35, including two consecutive four wicket hauls in his first two matches. In the Champions Trophy cup held in the UAE, Ambrose won the man of the match award in the final where he picked up 4/29. His brilliant form continued in the Benson and Hedges series in 1988/89 where he picked up 21 wickets, including his best haul of 5/17 against Australia at the MCG.
His wonderful form in the ODIs resulted in splendid performances during the Test series as well. In the second Test against Australia at Perth, Ambrose displayed his class and ferocity as he snapped up eight wickets in the match, including his first five wicket haul and also broke Jeff Lawson’s jaw as West Indies won the match by 169 runs.
However, his first major show-stopping spell was against England in the cauldron of the Kensington Oval in Barbados in 1990. England had looked all set to win a rare series in the West Indies and they were holding out for a draw. Ambrose came in at the end of the day and in five magnificent overs, picked up the last five wickets as he finished up with 8/45 to help West Indies level the series in fading light.
Another instance of Ambrose’s destruction was against South Africa at Bridgetown in 1992. Chasing 201 for a historic win, South Africa looked in good shape at 123/2 but Ambrose sliced through the middle order and picked up 6/34 to give West Indies a famous win.
If there is one match that defined Ambrose’s brilliance, it was during the match against Australia at Perth in 1992/93. Having arrived here with a brilliant 10-wicket haul in the Adelaide Test, he arrived at his favourite venue and decimated Australia with one of the greatest spells in cricket. In 32 balls, he snapped up seven wickets for just one run as West Indies stormed to an innings victory to clinch the series.
Ambrose continued to decimate oppositions and during the Test against England at Port-of-Spain in 1994, he once again demonstrated his class. Having picked up five wickets in the first innings, he then proceeded to bowl England out for a paltry 46 as he finished up with 6/24 to give West Indies an unlikely victory. It was a wonderful exhibition of fast bowling which left England totally demoralized.
As the years wore on, Ambrose was plagued by injuries but he continued to pick wickets at regular intervals. He formed a formidable opening partnership with Courtney Walsh. In 52 Tests that the duo played together, Ambrose and Walsh took a staggering 412 wickets at an average of 22. It is a shame that all these statistics were achieved during the period when West Indies cricket stagnated.
Ambrose retired after the England series in 2000. He was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2011. (www.cricbuzz.com)