Curtly Ambrose’s “I talk to no man” – not rude, just matter of fact – response to requests for interviews is legend. Now past 50, the Antiguan giant has mellowed. He talks. Not much, of course, and not often, but still.
Ambrose was recently appointed bowling consultant to the West Indies team, and hopes to play a part in taking the team back to its one-time glory. And Ambrose – easily one of the greatest pace bowlers of all time – wants to do it by instilling pride in the players, by telling them what cricket means to the people of the Caribbean.
Excerpts from a chat with Wisden India on bowling with Courtney Walsh to the challenge Twenty20 cricket throws to bowlers and much else:
You’ve had stints as head coach of Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC) and mentor with Guyana Amazon Warriors. Was being a part of the West Indies team always part of the plan?
First of all, making a contribution to the West Indies team and to cricket in general have long been things I would have liked to do at the end of my cricketing career. I haven’t spoken about it much, but when the West Indies team asked me to join, I readily agreed. Making a contribution means a lot to me. Yes, I have always wanted to work with the West Indian team. Ottis Gibson, the head coach, called me and asked me. He felt I could help. I have had some experience with Guyana and CCC back home. So I think I can help. I am very happy to be part of the set-up.
What do you make of the pace bowling resources at your disposal?
It’s not a question of talent – I have said that before. We have that here. We have strong personnel among the players. The thing we need is for people who have been there, who have been successful at the international level … we need those people in the set-up, who can bring something to the players. That’s why Ottis Gibson spoke to me, because I have been successful in international cricket for a very long time. The idea is not to coach, but to talk to the players, help them mentally. Make them understand what it takes to be successful.
And Jerome Taylor says that you have already helped him quite a bit.
Well, I have only done what I came to do. I have spoken to him, passed on my experience and knowledge.
Does it, at times, hurt that West Indies are relying on spinners so much these days, even in Test cricket, even at home?
I wouldn’t say that it hurts me … There was a time when we had fast bowlers, great fast bowlers, but times have changed, the wickets have changed, they have become slower, and we have had spinners coming through. So it has become difficult for the fast bowlers today. I think it’s no good to say we should only have fast bowlers. What West Indies need is good quality fast bowlers and good quality spinners. We need a combination to play together on a regular basis and win games.
West Indian cricketers are also big on the T20 circuit – is that a good thing or a bad thing?
T20 cricket is the next thing in cricket, I wouldn’t knock T20 cricket at all. I think T20 has a part to play. Why? Because it can make people turn out in numbers. And it attracts young cricketers. They can play longer versions of the game, but T20s can help in the development of a young cricketer and can even help them become good cricketers in the long run.
Would you have liked to play Twenty20s?
Yes, I would have, of course. If they were around in my time, I would have loved to play. It’s a great challenge for any bowler. T20 cricket is predominantly a batsman’s game, so it would have been a real challenge for me as a bowler. I wish I had a chance to play it and try to win the challenge as a bowler.
What’s your opinion of the pace bowlers of the current era – Dale Steyn or James Anderson, the New Zealanders, the Pakistanis … the Indians who are in England now?
Well, I am one of those guys who doesn’t really like to compare cricketers in general. We played in a different time, a different generation. It was a different time, different conditions. The good fast bowlers today are good, and we were good in our time. I don’t like to comment on individuals.
Talking about your generation, how important was it that you had such role models to try and emulate?
Oh, when we played, in our time, there were some great, great fast bowlers. Malcolm Marshall – we played together. We had such great fast bowlers coming through like Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop and Patrick Patterson. Everyone wanted to bowl fast at the time. I was a very, very tall man, and I wanted to bowl fast and I wanted to be the best at it. And I didn’t want to be the weak link. I didn’t want to be the weak link in a great cricketing team. The standards were very high. So I wanted to bowl at those high standards. We needed to remain a successful team.
I’ve heard that all tall boys in the Caribbean play basketball now …
(Laughs) Well, yeah, I was also very keen on basketball, but I was more keen to be a cricketer. Playing for my country always meant a lot to me. I knew I wanted to be a cricketer and represent my country for a long time. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did.
Tell us about bowling with Courtney Walsh – he has said in the past “he would die for me and I would die for him” about your partnership.
It was very simple. It was a great partnership and it was a pleasure to bowl for so long alongside Sir Courtney. We were aggressive and we bowled to pick up wickets – that was our secret. We bowled together – building pressure and picking up wickets. We never tried to outdo each other. We never competed. I supported him and he supported me. We both had good days and bad days but we always bowled together.
Everyone remembers your scrap with Steve Waugh (Trinidad, 1995). You’ve said in the past that you wanted to physically beat him up. So are you a cool, laidback dude who gets angry at times or basically an aggressive person?
Well, yeah, I was a very laidback person … I still am! But the thing was that when the bell would ring, and I walked over that rope, my whole relaxed mode changed. I am a proud man who had work to do. And I wanted to be the best. I didn’t want to be relaxed, no way, I had to bowl and not be nice. I wanted to be the best and I wanted to win. So there are two sides to me.
Returning to your new position – taking West Indies back to the top must be the main focus?
I do think that we have the talent to be among the top teams in the world again. It’s going to take some time, of course, provided we work together with a plan and direction. It’s not easy, and we need to explain to the young players what cricket means to the people of the Caribbean. Cricket has always been a great source of inspiration for the people of the West Indies. So I believe that given time, we could become one of the best in the world. I want to bring some fresh ideas to the table, ideas to improve the cricketers.
And away from cricket, there’s always the music.
(Laughs) There’s always time for music. But right now, the focus is on the cricket and the job I have to do. I have to play my role in making West Indies cricket much better. We have to become one of the top three teams in the world. Then there’ll be time for music.
Sir Curtly Ambrose will mentor Guyana Amazon Warriors in the 2014 Caribbean Premier League, which begins in Grenada on July 11. For more info, visit CPLT20.com