Exclusive: Ambrose on his career highlights and more

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There was no finer sight in cricket in the 1990s than watching Curtly Ambrose on song. His flowing run up, high action and out and out aggression was awe inspiring to watch.

No-one who watched him play when will forget his angry eyes when any batsman scored a run off him. If he was hit for four then he looked like he would explode with rage. He was mean. He was intimidating. Even if he didn't take wickets he didn't go for runs.

Of the 12 bowlers with 400 Test wickets Ambrose has the best average and the lowest economy rate. He would have held his own in the all-conquering West Indies sides of the 1970s and 1980s, in fact he would have shone.

While that snarling fast bowler is the image that is so indelibly linked with Ambrose, speaking to him he is warm and friendly.

He is happy to take the time to chat to you, eager to answer any questions that you have as full as possible. When he talks about his past he does it with humility and pride.

Asked for his career highlight he said it was difficult to think of just one but it would be the 1992/93 tour against Australia.

Ambrose told Cricket365: "It's difficult to really pinpoint just one, but I would say maybe the 1992-93 tour to Australia when we beat them 2-1, I believe that that would probably be my greatest tour.

"Because we had a very young and inexperienced team. Richie Richardson was the captain, when he went to Australia he had only had one Test match as captain, that was a one-off Test against South Africa.

"Brian Lara, he had two Test matches going to Australia, and we know how he turned out. Jimmy Adams had one. Most of the guys, so we had a young, inexperienced team, and no-one gave us a chance against a very, very strong Australian team led by Allan Border."

Ambrose led the wicket taking list in the series, picking up 33 wickets in five Tests where he averaged was just 16. The team were unfancied at home or abroad, very few people gave them a chance.

Not only did they win the Tests they defeated World Cup holders Pakistan and Australia in the ODI tri-series that followed.

"Australia had a powerful team, you've got to be honest, and to have beaten them in that Test series and also win the Triangular series as well that involved Pakistan, I mean to me I would say that would probably be the highlight of any series I've played in."

Perhaps the bowling partnership that most defined the West Indies during Ambrose's time was his combination with Courtney Walsh.

The two men were the perfect foil for each other, often winning games on their own when the back up bowlers didn't fire. But it isn't Walsh that Ambrose says is the best player that he took the field with.

"I would say Malcolm Marshall, the late Malcolm Marshall. In my opinion, I think that he's the best we've produced. That's my opinion. He had a phenomenal cricket brain.

"He had the skills, he could swing the ball both ways at high pace, but to me apart from his skills that he had, which was exceptional, to me I think his greatest asset was his cricket brain.

"He could tell you things he's going to do and how he's going to get the batsman out, and more often than not it happened. So it’s not like he was bragging or boasting: he'll tell you, and he'll do it. He was a phenomenal bowler."

When Ambrose walked away from the international game in September 2000 he had just finished a series where he averaged 18 with the ball. Many said he left the game too early, the man himself doesn't see it that way.

"I didn't think I retired too early. I think I was a few weeks short of 37 and I've played 12 and a half years of international cricket and county cricket and regional cricket and all kinds of cricket, so I figured 12 and a half years as a fast bowler I thought that was phenomenal.

"A lot of people say that I should have gone on for another couple of years maybe, but they're not taking the age factor into consideration.

"I was still bowling well, I was still pretty fit, so I guess because of my fitness and I was still bowling well that's why they said that.

"My age never really came into play, but I just thought it was time for me to leave, and I had no problems leaving at that time."

Since Ambrose called time the fortunes of the West Indies have faded rapidly, especially in Test cricket, the format of the game that Ambrose says he enjoyed the most.

For Ambrose it is less to do with the players that are available for selection than it is about the surfaces they are playing on.

"It's nothing to do with the talent that we have. We still have a lot of talent here in the Caribbean.

"There's no two ways about it because from time to time even though we're not playing as well or as consistent, from time to time you will see some brilliant cricket from the guys. We're still searching for some consistency.

"But I believe the nature of the pitches in the Caribbean has a lot to do with it. We need to prepare better cricket pitches, so you would get better cricket, and you'd see cricketers coming through at a higher level.

"The pitches in the Caribbean are terrible, and when you look at the last ten years or so, the spinners really dominate regional cricket.

"They've got to prepare better cricket pitches so it’s an even contest between bat and ball, and you'd see a few more fast bowlers coming through as well."

In recent years the format of the game where the West Indies have found the most success is Twenty20, and Ambrose is currently assistant coach at the Guyana Amazon Warriors. So is the CPL good for West Indies cricket?

"Of course, I mean T20 is an exciting game, and us Caribbean people and cricket-lovers around the globe generally love excitement, and T20 brings that.

"This is the third year of the CPL. The first year, many of us were very sceptical, even the organisers. Everyone was sceptical, we weren't so sure how it was going to turn out.

"It turned out very well. Second year was good, now the third year started off the same way. So it's getting better and bigger, and I'm quite sure that it will introduce a lot more cricketers to the game, and hopefully West Indies cricket can be somewhere near the top again in a few years."

Sir Curtly Ambrose is Assistant Coach for the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Hero Caribbean Premier League. The Biggest Party in Sport runs from 20th June to 26th July.

Peter Miller

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