The late great Richie Benaud begins his foreword in Time To Talk with the phrase "Luck's a fortune". He says, "although skill is vital for success, if luck doesn't run with you, your cricketing life could be full of problems". Roy Fredericks' assault and battery at the WACA was perhaps the most audacious and brutal innings of all time. Unfortunately, no footage of it exists because they were apparently destroyed by a flood at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation archives. Likewise, many great innings or bowling performances like Clem Hill's legendary 188, Fred Spofforth's 14 wicket haul, Allan Border's 98* & 100* (Jeffrey Dujon said he was sad that Border didn't get twin 100s), Hugh Tayfield's 9/113 etc. are either non-existent or remain out of broadcast.

That way we, the cricket fans, are lucky that almost the entirety of Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose's career is available on video, by far the most devastating bowler yours truly has ever seen. Some might say Wasim Akram & Waqar Younis but with due respect to their old ball abilities, they did it mostly against New Zealand and England unlike the big Antiguan who destroyed powerful batting lineups of Australia in Australia. He is the highest visiting wicket taker in Australia and one of only two bowlers to take 75 wickets at a sub-20 average Down Under and unlike Dick Hadlee, he never got to feast on a sub par Aussie batting of 1985.

One of Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose's remarkably proud records in test cricket was that he conceded more than 100 runs in a innings just once, on debut. That day he vowed that he would never concede more than 100 runs in an innings unless he bowled at least 35 overs. He bowled in 178 innings after that and more than 35 overs in 9 of those innings but he never did leak more than 96 runs. It shows a certain determination and pride. The latter is a word that keeps appearing in the book at regular intervals. It is common knowledge that Ambrose's first love was basketball and he played cricket just to please his cricket mad mother, who named one of his initials after the Aussie speedster Ray Lindwall. But, once he stepped on the pitch, his professionalism and pride in representing West Indies meant that there would be no half-assing and the standards would be the highest.

What is surprising that he harboured dreams of playing basketball until 1990! He mentions that until his first great back breaking spell against England at Kensington Oval, he still believed he could play basketball in the NBA. England, ahead 1-0 in the series, lost just 2 wickets in the day, an hour after tea having been being 15/3 overnight. The target was beyond England and they had to survive less than an hour's play with the light fading by the minute but Ambrose took 5 wickets in 5 overs with the new ball and levelled the series. West Indies duly hammered their whipping boys in the final test to take the series 2-1. That was the turning point according the great man himself and he firmly puts the 8/45 as one of the top 3 performances of his career. More on this later.

There are mentions of some subtle currents of a regional rivalry within the side. Malcolm Marshall apparently dissed him after he got driven by Lamb by saying "Joel Garner never got driven like that" and earlier in the tour when asked about Ambrose as one for future, replied that Ambrose was alright but Ian Bishop, still a year away from his debut, was the real deal. There was one other factor that drove Ambrose; spite. The burning desire to prove his detractors wrong. He took Marshall's insults personally and drove himself to be better. But the spite never made him lose track of the bigger picture. He clearly knew the best way to respond is by performing inside the ropes which is exactly what he did. He makes a mention of how intelligent Marshall was and how much he learnt from possibly the greatest bowler produced by the Caribbean seas.

He never shies from the controversies. The Robert Bailey dismissal. The Dean Jones incident. The Standoff at Port of Spain with Tugga where he admits if he had hadn't been restrained by Richie Richardson, Steve Waugh would have likely never played cricket again in not so many words. The utterly Sathafrikaesque choke at Mohali. The ugly beamers at Dermot Reeve. Brian Lara's petulance and bad behaviour off the field. The calling off of the Jamaica test. The Stanford mess. The continual slipping of the standards set by his predecessors and his and Walsh's failure to inspire a decent generation of bowlers in Franklyn Rose, Reon King and Merv Dillon. The South African debacle, on and off the pitch. He chastises his manager and coach, Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall respectively, for not standing behind their players. There are excuses, some of them genuine, but in the end he never fails to take responsibility which I thought was great thing to do.

He had wanted to retire since the disastrous whitewash in Pakistan in 1997 but a combination of wanting to prove the selectors wrong and some coaxing from Brian Lara made him continue for 3 further years. He could have avoided the ugly mess before and during the first ever tour by a mostly black test team in the former Apartheid nation but then he would have missed the surprising series win against England at home and the sensational 2-2 draw against Australia at home. I can only imagine the beaming smile going from ear to ear where he writes that he faced Australia 6 times in his career and ended up on the winning side thrice and leads the head to head 3-2. Ultimately, he decided that the 2000 series against England was enough. The only time he was on the losing side against the old enemy.

He dedicates an entire chapter to Sachin vs Brian but it was one of the more disappointing pages of the book. There is absolutely no new insight. The same old SRT was solid, Lara was flamboyant. SRT never gave you a chance but Lara looked to attack etc. Lara was a party boy, SRT was composed and calm. You know, the usual. As one of the most incisive bowlers of all time, I expected more analysis from Ambrose but they hardly played each other so maybe that had a role to play. He also validates and seconds my personally held belief that Carl Hooper is THE most talented batsman I have seen play. He firmly puts him above Lara in the talent quotient but chastises him for not fully maximising his abilities. He also says Chanderpaul was nowhere near as talented as both Lara or Hooper but his determination and drive made him a superior batsman to his fellow Guyanese Charmer. He also seems to hold a very high regard for Ponting and Kallis which I found somewhat surprising.

The most disappointing aspect of the entire autobiography is that there is no separate chapter dedicated to his long time colleague and cricketing spouse: Courtney Andrew Walsh. The book is interspersed with little anecdotes of how close Walsh is to him. He even calls him his unofficial brother who probably would have been the best man but for the elder David Ambrose. Yet, there is no separate chapter for the two. Having said that there is genuine love and respect for the gentle genial Jamaican that simply oozes from the words. Like Helen Seinfeld repeatedly asks, "How can anyone not like Courtney Walsh?".

For those that are keeping count, yes this is indeed the 10th paragraph and there have been 1200+ words and I have yet to mention that spell. It was a spell where no one could have subdued him. Not Sir Donald Bradman. Not Sir Vivian Richards. Not Sir Garfield Sobers. Yet, he personally ranks this as only his fourth best spell! The top 3 are 8/45 at Bridgetown, 6/24 at Trinidad (both against England) and 6/34 against South Africa at Bridgetown simply because those came in the 4 innings and 2 of them defended low 4th innings totals. He says that "you could say the 7/1 effectively decided the Perth test but there was still a lot of cricket to be played". Imagine having such an astonishing spell as just number 4. Comes right back to the pride that made him set such unimaginably high standards.

As a mad, crazy West Indies fan, I hardly learnt anything new but got some open secrets validated. In all, it was a decent read; neither too exciting nor too boring but I personally do not like autobiographies. This is the first autobiography that I have been able to complete simply because it was Curtly Ambrose's. I am yet to complete Frederick Forsyth's, Zlatan's and Don Andres's autobios and I don't think I ever will. There is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in Ambrose's life off the pitch. Raised in a large, very religious Christian family, mostly by his mother because his father had left to the States for work. Been with the same woman for nearly 30 years, married for the last 17, with 3 daughters between them, one of her's and one adopted. None of the stereotypical party animal, philandering sportsman that we have come to expect. Apparently, he doesn't smoke or drink alcohol because his father was a heavy smoker and borderline alcoholic. He could be the poster boy of one of those suburban dads had he not played cricket.

His own summary of how he could succeed when he didn't even "love" the sport was that had he loved the sport he would have thought too much and that could have proven counterproductive. This ability to turn on and off kept him steady throughout. Sir Andy Roberts diagnosed his "pride" as "yes he liked basketball but he must have loved cricket to be so intense all time in his bowling. Pride was a big part of his game but that doesn't come without love". I completely agree with this assessment with two words extra: Pride and Spite.

P.S: Special word of thanks to Ram for gifting me this book.


Popular Posts