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Cricketers reflect on their lives and times

Curtly Ambrose

'Pride is essential'

His Highness was fast, he was tall, he was proud, he didn't care for the batsman's well-being

Interview by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

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Curtly Ambrose relaxes at the nets
"I was a natural. Things came easily to me" © Getty Images

I'm someone who likes competition. These days I play basketball and football.

Pride is an essential quality for every sportsman. I am a very, very proud man.

I liked to give it my all when I went out to the middle. We have so many supporters, both at home and abroad.

Cricket's the only sport played by West Indies as a combined unit. It has a mass following, and it's important cricketers understand that.

Representing a small island like Antigua presented a long, hard struggle. Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica were the big countries, and we had to do that much extra to get into the West Indies side. Antigua has produced some great players - Andy Roberts, Viv Richards etc. - and that gradually helped us to get some recognition. Roberts first played for West Indies in 1974, I think, and it made a huge difference for those who followed. If he can make it, we can too, we felt

I was never a great watcher of the game. I preferred to play, be out in the middle and part of the action.

I grew up hearing about great players like Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards, and when I started playing I actually rubbed shoulders with them. Just being in the dressing room, watching those guys talk and prepare for a game, was the stuff of dreams.

I had no sympathy for the batsman.

At one level I wanted to play to satisfy myself; at another level it is important to know your performances reflected the pride of the people you represented. It's important to have both individual pride and collective pride.

Fast bowling was like a job for me. I earned my money by going out there and getting wickets.

I couldn't afford to think of whether the batsman would be hurt or if he would struggle. Fast bowling is really, really hard work. I can't give up all my hard work for what the batsman is thinking. He was out there to score runs; I was out there to get wickets.

I wasn't the type to socialise with the opposition. Normally those who socialised with the opposition had a drink with them. I didn't socialise that much because I didn't drink. I wasn't that friendly with them. I had no problem in meeting an opponent and saying "hi" or saying a couple of good words, but I never got too friendly.

Playing cricket for West Indies is motivation in itself. Not too many get a chance. To know that you are one among the 11 that are representing such a great set of people was enough. I didn't need anything more to push me on.

The two performances I will always remember are getting England all out for 46 in Trinidad, and taking seven wickets for one run in a spell in Perth. It's not often that teams get bowled out for 46, and it's not often that you get such figures against Australia. Those are two performances I will be proud to take to my grave.

Richie Richardson pulls Curtly Ambrose away from Steve Waugh, West Indies v Australia, third Test, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
"I couldn't afford to think of whether the batsman would be hurt or if he would struggle" © Getty Images

I was a natural. Things came easily to me. I didn't carry much weight, unlike many others. I was fit and had the attributes that a fast bowler needs. You could say I started with an advantage.

I never wanted to hurt any batsman, but I never gave it easy. Even if I hurt a batsman once, I wouldn't give it easy the next time.

What hurts me is how long the West Indian decline has continued. When I started, we were the best side in the world. As my career progressed, we still produced a few great players - like Courtney [Walsh] and [Brian] Lara - but I knew the decline would eventually happen. When you lose so many great players, it is bound to take place. What hurt was how people didn't do anything to stop it despite knowing the reasons for the decline.

I don't miss cricket these days. I watch very little cricket. I feel I had my share of time on the field. After so many years of playing cricket, it's nice to get away for a while.

My advice for any young bowler starting out is, "Just make sure you love the game." I see several people who play today who don't love the game. That is the most important thing. If you love the game, you won't need too much motivation.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo. This interview was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine

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