July 8, 2014

'Our goal is for West Indies to be in the top three'

Curtly Ambrose talks about the interest generated by the Caribbean Premier League, his love for basketball, and bowling with Walsh

Subash Jayaraman: When the Caribbean Premier League T20 started last year, you expressed some concerns about how quickly it was put together. The second season is upon us now. You have been an assistant coach for Guyana [Amazon Warriors]. What are your feelings about the CPL T20 now?

Curtly Ambrose: I am very excited about it, the 2014 edition. When I walk around the Caribbean, everyone is talking about the CPL coming up. When I heard about the CPL last year, I was very excited because other parts of the world played T20 cricket and we saw all the buzz - the IPL, the Big Bash. So for Caribbean to have the CPL, we were very excited.

However, I had a small reservation because I know the Caribbean people. Once they start something new, we tend to stay back and watch it first and see how it's going to go. Once it is going well, then we will support it.

From the very first day, there were sold-out crowds and that went through the whole tournament. Some people couldn't even get into the stadium. Some great cricket was played as well. To me, it was a really big success last year. Hopefully we maintain the standard or even go beyond it, though that's a tall order.

SJ: What sort of impact do you think it will have on the cricketing talent in the Caribbean?

CA: T20, to me, has got a big part to play in cricket because it is such an exciting game. A lot of people watch T20 cricket. They turn out for T20 games. The youngsters want to play the T20 game. Getting the youngsters to start playing the game is always the hardest thing to do. Once they play T20 cricket, that is a start. Then you can get them to the longer format of the game. So the answer for me is that T20 has a really big part to play. The way cricket is in the Caribbean at the moment, the CPL is a breath of fresh air because it generates a lot of interest for aspiring cricketers.

SJ: Have you ever wondered how you would have done in the T20 format?

CA: I've been asked this question before, and yes, I would have loved to play T20. T20 is really a batsman's game. right? So it is difficult for a bowler, any bowler, and a bowler thrives on competition. I would love the competition. It would be a real test of my bowling skills. You have to bowl just four overs (laughs), but yes, I would have loved the challenge.

SJ: What things would you have done, or what do you tell your main bowlers to do, to excel in the format?

CA: I think the real key about bowling in T20 cricket is variety. You have four overs to bowl. You have no margin for error. One bad over can cost you the game. On the other hand, one brilliant over could win your team the game as well. You must be able to bowl quick deliveries, slower deliveries and cutters. Variety is the key, to me, to be a good T20 bowler.

SJ: What is your role as bowling consultant with the West Indies team, and what is it that you want to accomplish?

CA: What we want to accomplish collectively is to take West Indies cricket back to No. 1. If not that, at least in the top three cricket teams in the world. That is our goal, collectively. The West Indies coach Ottis Gibson asked me if I could be a part of the West Indies set-up. I told him I would be happy to do it, because I had always thought that at the end of my career, whatever experience and knowledge I gained over the years, I would be more than happy to give back to West Indies cricket. Under-15, Under-19, senior level, whatever. Anything for West Indies cricket. When the coach asked me to be a part of it, I didn't have to think about it much, and I said yes. I have been a part of the best team in the world for many years. I always believed that I gained valuable experience, that I can teach these guys to become better bowlers.

In terms of my role, I told coach Gibson that I'll try make these bowlers understand what it takes to be successful, what it takes to become a legend, to get your team to the top. Those are the things that I have to teach them. That is not so much about telling them how to bowl; I just have to fine-tune them, tweak them a bit. On the mental side of it, give directions, give them a good understanding. This is what I do.

SJ: West Indies over a long period relied on an endless line of fast bowlers. Now you don't have out-and-out fast bowlers coming from the Caribbean. Any thoughts on why that might be so?

CA: There is two halves as to why that is. One, they need proper guidance and once they are willing to learn they can become great fast bowlers over time. What happened is, the pitches have changed quite a lot. They are very slow, nothing much for the fast bowlers. You find that a lot of spinners are coming through because of the nature of the pitches. However, I believe that a couple of good fast bowlers and a couple of good spinners who can bowl teams out twice consistently is always a good combination. Back in our time we had our main fast bowlers who got the job done. But today, on different surfaces, you need a combination of quality fast bowlers and quality spinners who will get the job done.

SJ: It is common knowledge that basketball was the sport of your choice when you grew up. But once you made your debut for WI, you had Courtney Walsh playing there for four years. What sort of relationship did you have with him being the senior bowler?

CA: You are quite right about basketball. Basketball was my first love. I wanted to be an NBA basketball player rather than a cricketer. However, I have no regrets representing my country for so many years, it means a lot to me - a privilege, an honour - to play for my country.

In terms of my partnership with Courtney Walsh, our secret to success was very simple. Courtney and I never tried to outdo each other. That was the key. If it was my day for taking wickets, his job was simply to keep the pressure at the other end. If it was his day to take wickets, it was my job to keep the pressure on. We complemented each other very well.

SJ: Was there any particular match - a Test, an ODI or a first-class match even - that you can look back on and say that was when you "arrived" as a fast bowler?

CA: That is a good question. When I started my career, I was still learning day by day the fast bowling art. Some other guys like Courtney Walsh, the late Malcolm Marshall, they were in the team. There were some great players - Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge etc. I was forced to learn my trade quickly, because I never wanted to be the weak link. We had a very, very powerful West Indies team. I am a very proud man, and had to learn quickly. I would say that I really came of age probably two years into international cricket. I didn't have success right when I started. I would say that in 1990, two years after my debut, I believed that I had really become a bowler.

SJ: In 1992-93 in Australia, you had one of the most devastating spells in cricket. And of course, you have been instrumental in some of West Indies' most-spoken-about wins as well. Is there any Test match that stands out in your memory where you did everything right?

CA: To me, that is probably the best series for me - not just personally, but for the team. Why? Because we went to Australia with a very young team. Richie Richardson was the captain, who had won just one Test as a captain, and that was against South Africa. So he was pretty new to the job and we had a lot of young players. Brian Lara - he went to Australia with just two Tests to his name. Jimmy Adams had one. Some of the guys had none.

Basically it was a young team. We were rebuilding. We had just lost Vivian Richards, Greenidge, Dujon, a lot of other players. So we had a lot of young players going to Australia, playing against a powerful Australian team led by the great Allan Border. So no one gave us any chance to win the series. We came out of the series winning 2-1. We won the Test series, we won the ODI series as well. The team that went to Australia was still a great team, even though it was very young. We believed that we could win the series. That was the thing that took us over the line. We never gave up. Everyone thought that we had no chance, but we decided to compete. Winning that series in Australia, to me, was very, very satisfying.

SJ: Was there any particular batsman that you looked forward to bowling to? Is there any particular innings of a batsman that you admired?

CA:- No, no such batsman that I wanted to bowl at. It is hard work being a fast bowler (laughs).

I believe that in every team, the first six batsmen are the best in the team. If I can remove two or three of the top six, then I can get some satisfaction that I am doing well and can put my team in a good position. I get more satisfaction when I take any of the first six than the last three or four. Taking two or three of the top six all the time is always something that I loved to do, and that put my team in a great position.

SJ: One last question, and this is a listener question from Shyam. Which one is the more unlikely win for West Indies - the one-run win over Australia in Adelaide or the win over India in Barbados where West Indies defended 120?

CA: Well, they were both great Test matches. When you look at India's batting line-up, including [Sachin] Tendulkar, chasing 120 you would have thought would have been an easy task for India. Tendulkar alone could have scored 30 of those runs, because he is that good. So other people never gave us a chance to defend 120. It was a strong Indian batting line-up. But we did it. It was very satisfying.

The one-run win against Australia at Adelaide - that was like a tough Test match. I thought we had it won long before, because we had got to the No. 11. Throughout that series, Tim May didn't really survive for very long when he came in to bat. We thought with the No. 11 coming in, it will be all over. But this time the No. 11 stuck around for a while. They came within one run. To win with one run, that was something really phenomenal. We never gave up, though. We all believed that we were still going to win. I think we deserved to win that Test match, because I thought we played the best cricket.

Curtly Ambrose will mentor the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the 2014 Limacol Caribbean Premier League. The Biggest Party in Sport begins in Grenada on 11th July. For more information, visit CPLT20.com