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August 31, 2006
Curtly Ambrose had an outstanding cricket career. An amazing 405 wickets in 98 Test matches and 226 wickets in 176 one-day internationals ranks him among the greatest bowlers in the history of the game. Hailing from Antigua, he started international cricket in 1988, and left in September 2000 - giving 12 years of yeoman service to West Indies. But there is something worrying "Ambie". He admitted leaving the game a peaceful man but said there is "one that got away". In a recent wide-ranging interview, he admitted the defeat by Australia in the semifinal of the 1996 World Cup still haunts him
What was that like? It must have hurt?
We suffered that defeat against Australia in the 1996 World Cup and that still haunts me up to this day. It is about the only regret I had in my career, not having a World Cup medal around my neck - it is the missing link and would have put the icing on the cake for me. The thing that hurt the most was that we had the game won. It was a strange loss by just five runs and there was nothing really we could have done. I still, up to this day, can't put my hand on what caused the defeat.
We were going along at a run a ball and suddenly we panicked and it all fell apart. I knew that if we had taken care of Australia there was no way Sri Lanka could beat us in the final. I was that confident. After the match there was complete silence in the dressing room. Not a man said a word. No one spoke because no one knew what to say. For once in my life I was down and out. You must remember that in that same World Cup we lost to Kenya, so we were bouncing back. I say it to this day that if we had just been able to get those other five runs my cricket life would have been complete.
Richie Richardson once told me you never liked cricket. I still can't believe that's true.
As a boy, I never liked cricket, and I was definitely not a fan of the game. My favourite sports were basketball and football. Cricket was too long, took up a lot of energy, was never on my list and to be honest I avoided it. Occasionally I would play with the lads in my village, Swetes, but that was just for fun. I played in school and sometimes for my village. But I was a very proud man and anything I did I made sure I did it well and put my all in, so when I had to play cricket, I gave 100 per cent.
So how on earth did you get hooked on the game?
I used to play tennis ball cricket on the beach and had fun and frolic with friends. Because of this people told me they believe I could play the proper version of the game. As I said I played at school, because people pushed me to. I was always a tall guy and they felt I could make it. I played in the national league for Swetes at age 21 for the first time, and yes, that's starting late. But I like to tell people - it was not a late start, I just chose my time correctly. I gave it a big go and it paid off. Many people don't know it, but I still don't watch a lot of cricket to this day. I would follow the game and the fortunes of the West Indies and my other favourite teams, but watching cricket is still tough for me. When I retired I said that was it. I decided I would never play another cricket match again.
You were lucky to have a great career, how was it at the start?
I tell people my career took off like the Concorde. In 1984 I was playing for Swetes. In 1985 I was playing for Antigua and Barbuda. In 1986 I got picked for the Leeward Islands, alongside Richie, Viv Richards, Keith Arthurton and other great guys. Then by 1988 I was in the West Indies team with great men like Maco (Malcolm Marshall) and Cuddy (Courtney Walsh) and in just those short few years everything just took off. Maco was the top bowler in the world when I came in and he was a world beater. They were some other good guys around and I didn't want to be the weak link so I had to learn very fast. At first people used to say we'll see off Maco and Cuddy and then take our runs off that "other guy", so I was forced to improve quickly. Maco and Walsh were great to me. They offered the world of advice.
You certainly learnt very fast. By the 1990 home series you were taking 8 for 45 and sending England packing. How was that?
A: Yeah, that was in Barbados and I really enjoyed it. We were 0-1 down in the series, with a match to go and the England team was holding on for a draw. Jack Russell had stuck in our teeth and it didn't look like we would ever get him out. Jack could be a very stubborn guy and I had to pull something out of the bag for my side. I managed to get him with one that kept a bit low and that was what the doctor ordered. It was a good performance and I enjoyed it. We went on to win the match and we won the next one in Antigua by an innings and pulled off the series. We just couldn't let England beat us at home.
Then there was another great showing. A spell of seven for one at the WACA against Australia?
It's not often that you get such good figures. To be honest, it came out of the blue. I didn't bowl very well before lunch. Both wickets that fell went to Ian Bishop. I didn't have a particularly good spell and I wanted to come back out and get back in there. Then suddenly everything just fell into place. I sent down some top deliveries, which even surprised myself and there were some brilliant catching in the slips. Everyone was delighted and suddenly Australia were all out for 120-odd.
It was another moment in my career, which I was extremely proud of. WACA was a good ground for me and the pitch reminded me of those back in the Caribbean - bounce and pace - and every fast bowler loves that. Was it one of my favourite grounds? I never had a favourite ground so to speak. I was a professional and whatever pitch I encountered I knew I had to put in that big effort.
There was that incident when Dean Jones asked you to take off your wristband in a one-day international during the 1993 World Series Final. Did that tick you off?
To this day I found it strange that he asked me to take off my wristband. I was using wristbands all through my career and out of nowhere he asked the umpires to ask me to take it off. I think he said something about the white wristband and the white ball which was disrupting. It didn't make sense and I was reluctant to take it off, but Richie told me to just get in with the game and avoid the distractions. I was mad, really mad. But as I told them you should never wake a sleeping lion. It was just a one-off situation, but it was a warning to batsmen all over the world. What Dean Jones did was a bad mistake, which backfired. I blew them away.
Then there was the incident with Steve Waugh in the Caribbean, during a Test in Trinidad, went you two went face to face. What happened there?
That was a one-off situation and there was no love lost between Steve and myself. We still have mutual respect for each other and it did not go beyond that day. On that day, he said something that I didn't like and I felt I had to respond. I felt I deserved more respect than that and I had to give him a piece of my mind as well. It was nothing racial, just a spur of the moment something. Each man said his piece and the game went on. Today, we have the greatest respect for each other.
Waugh rated you as the supreme fast bowling machine, and better than Marshall. That's a huge compliment.
Thanks Steve (laughs). As I said there was great respect from Steve towards me and from myself towards him. He was a great batsman and very tough to get rid of. I had to have a big bag of tricks to outfox and outwit Steve Waugh - a giant of a man.
And finally, what keeps Curtly Ambrose going nowadays? What's life like?
Music has always been my passion. I am involved in the band Big Bad Dread and the Baldhead, where I play guitar and Richie plays bass. It's sort of a roadshow, and everyone - fans and the members of the band - has been loving it. Enjoying is not the word. I'm absolutely loving the music business. Music has always been one of my passions and I see myself as a musician. I was a fast bowler, I'm now a musician (laugh). We will be in England for a number of performances and we are also working on a CD to be released in the upcoming weeks.
© The Nation
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge