But for now, as a tribute to the man who was the country's first world-beater, here's the renowned song by Lord Relator in its entirety. After all, how often do we see a debutant crowning his first Test series with 774 runs @ 154.8 in the backyard of an opponent with such a fearsome history? And in the process literally earns a place in their cultural folklore with a song composed and sung in his honour?
To me, Curtly Ambrose was the supreme fast bowling machine. He moved with the ease and grace of a champion athlete across the ground, was beautifully balanced and coordinated, and could blast you with pace if needed or revert to a strategic assault. He owned the trait everyone wants but few possess: the gift of being able to shift into that extra gear when needed. His calling card when he thought he had you plumb lbw was a double clap of the hands that was as reliable as the umpire's finger going up. He detested singles off his bowling, believing the prey had escaped his clutches.
-Steve Waugh in Out of My Comfort Zone: the autobiography
It was in March 1988 that I first heard of Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose. Pakistan were touring the Windies and to start with, were thrashed 5-0 in the one day series. Now given that Pakistan had a very good one day record in 1987, I was a bit surprised by the outcome. It was a newcomer from the land of Roberts and Richards who cornered the headlines, grabbing 4 wickets in the first 2 games I think. A few months later there was this Oct 22 '88 Champions Trophy final where we had our first look at the man - a Pakistan squad soaring on confidence was demolished by a series of stump-clattering yorkers first up from the young beanpole who took 4-29, all bowled.(Pak lost by 11 runs in a thriller - as usual stupid DD denying us the last 2 overs of the game with 22 needed)
But unfortunately Indian fans could never get the chance to see Ambrose more often. Curtly missed the 1994 tour and never played a Test in India. Was steady, not super in '89 and received dead pitches in the '97 home series against us. So it was only last year when I was digging some figures that I could understand Amby's greatness in fitting measure. Given that the standard tactic of most batsmen was to quietly see him off and try to score off the others, his eco-rate is way ahead of all the other greats. And yet he has a good wicket-taking rate for someone off whom batsmen were wary of playing shots. Should easily walk into the 10 top fast bowlers of all time list.
To catch up on what I'd missed about Curtly, spent the last week looking up videos. Saw his spell in the 1993 Perth Test - Windies having just saved face winning the epic Adelaide Test by 1 run to level the series. On to the decider at the WACA strip, first day morning Aussies take strike and despite losing couple of early wickets are steadying the ship nearing 100 with three down. Curtly returns for a new spell and is absolutely unplayable once he gets the line and length right. Though I've heard of the WACA pitch's reputation for years, watching cricket on it is completely different thing - practically every ball is a potential grenade once it hits the surface. It's unbelievable how much skill is needed to bat on a perfect paradise for fast bowling - the ball takes off like lightning after pitching, hits the bat even as the batsman is shaping for a drive and flies to the slip cordon. Which is why one needs to have a nice repertoire of horizontal bat shots to score on pacy wickets. Against a quick bowler who hits the right length, trying to drive will only gift a catch to the slip cordon. Revealing to watch the looks of stunned disbelief on the faces of batsmen who did not expect the ball to reach them within half a wink. Steve Waugh wrote that one look at the pitch told him he was going to be deadmeat - in fact, he was caught by a leaping keeper standing on the edge of the circle collecting the ball chest-high. Ambrose destroyed the Aussies with a spell of seven wickets for 1 run, the pick of which was Border's first ball duck, the Aussie great utterly clueless to that delivery(see pic). His trademark method of dismissal was the good length ball that opens up the batsman like a can of beans and takes the edge.
(Left)A young Tendulkar completely squared up in the 92 World Cup. Curtly took tremendous pride in turning out for the Windies, with their rich legacy of worldbeaters. How often have we seen him walk off the ground utterly annoyed with himself on getting out! He was one of the last few West Indians whose very walk had a regal stamp to it. It was a moment of dismay for me when I went to the Mumbai Test few years ago only to see them receive a humiliating innings defeat. Went expecting a memorable knock from Lara but they fell like nine pins, the innings ending in about three hours. Seeing their spineless performance, I wondered if they were playing for the same team for whom Clive Lloyd smashed a glorious 242 and 37 off 19 balls on that very ground in 1975.
A calypso on Ambrose and Walsh, the voiceover and carnival atmosphere in the background proving to be nice embellishments.
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