In the ‘90s the West Indies may not have had the pace pedigree as they did in the ‘80s, but the team was still spearheaded by two of the most formidable bowlers ever to have graced the game. Their friendship may have been seen as fortuitous by some but Sir Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh proved to the world that their bonds of brotherhood lay both on and off the pitch, while sadly reminding us that these brothers-in-arms were the last of a dying breed. Monuments that the game misses dearly.
Walsh was the first bowler to reach 500 Test wickets in the game before retiring in 2001. He and Ambrose instilled caution in batsmen before the latter also bowed out of the game in 2000. Walsh ended with 519 scalps in Tests and 227 in One-Days, not to mention very comical performances as the last batter in. He took those innings in stride! ‘Ambi’, the man who complemented the former skipper so well, concluded his career with 405 victims in Tests and 225 ODI wickets. The two go hand in hand, revered as the best 1-2 KO punch to open the spell for any team. Just ask the Aussies and England.
“Courtney had the world record for 500 wickets first, retired after (me) but I was knighted first!” joked Sir Curtly. Walsh made it clear that his closeness to ‘Ambi’ made them family and this provided ample foundation for them to terrorize batsmen. Walsh said that someday he wanted to join Ambrose in a coaching capacity with the West Indies and continue their legendary tale but it was up to the powers-that-be to utilize their visions. They’re halfway there with Ambrose on staff for the Bangladesh series but with Ottis Gibson’s departure, nothing seems set in stone. Conversely, nothing’s too far-fetched with this reshuffle so the pace duo could well join up in a more permanent capacity, sooner than many would assume.
“If that opportunity ever comes, I’ll grab it. We had a good partnership on and off the field; we’re very close. If ever we got that chance, I’ll be very happy,” Walsh said in a contemplative and reflective manner. The nostalgia of their heyday struck. Ambrose expounded more as he also pointed to the man who filled in for Gibson in the Bangladesh battle, Richie Richardson, as a brilliant move for the region. On older players being welcomed with open arms, and more so, players with a degree of success under their belts, Ambrose vociferously offered, “To be quite honest, it’s been long overdue. When you’ve been part of one of the most successful teams in history, and then have to watch that team go so far down the ladder, it’s no surprise that many past players want to come back and help. But we weren’t allowed to. It’s such a mystery.”
Ambrose had one objective in mind. “We must get back to the top. Use our expertise and knowledge,” he pleaded with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Both agreed the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) offered them avenues back in and for that, they were grateful. Working with the upcoming generation as mentors and coaches was something they eagerly grasped. “We all have our roles to play. In the Caribbean, we have pitches that now are reasonably good so I’d like to continue working with fast bowlers, helping them figure batsmen out. It requires constant thinking. Cricket is cricket, in general, so even if I work with spinners in T20 formats, it’s all about proper strategy. I think too many coaches are in players’ ears and confuse them,” Walsh lamented. Ambrose nodded in agreement. He too felt that to nurture players, a coach needed to let them express themselves before honing in on their characteristics which needed refining.
Both men, tall in stature and even taller in reputation, disagreed though that the notion of T20 cricket was hurting regional players. “If you’re a good enough cricketer, you can always adapt to any format of the game. Doesn’t a Test player also play 50-over cricket? My point is made. The same applies to T20 cricket!” Ambrose stated.
“If you cannot transition, you’re simply not good enough,” he reiterated as he made it clear adaptability was the key to being a top-notch player.
It was at this juncture Walsh retouched on the pitches.
“You know, we do need to prepare better ones,” hinting that he may have been generous in his previous assessment and that the pitches were affecting batsmen just as much as they did bowlers.
Ambrose reintroduced himself: “Exactly. But again, no matter the format, no matter the pitch, a player must be able to…”
“Adapt!” Walsh interjected. They finished each other’s sentences.
Walsh then continued Ambrose’s train of thought. “Each cricketer has different skills. Spinners will have their days but so will seamers. This is a challenge I enjoyed when playing and now, when coaching. We’re both thrilled to be working with the younger bowlers but also, to be hearing their responses. Improvement is always needed and we are a work in progress,” he contended with regards to the West Indies. While Walsh’s Jamaica Tallawahs and Ambrose’s Guyana Amazon Warriors would see no 2014 CPL success, both men were enjoying their foray into the game again, as teachers.
The Antiguan musician, who had batsmen dancing, hopping and skipping in the pitch, and a Jamaican giant, whose nickname of ‘Cuddy’ was, and still is, extremely deceiving didn’t hide their disappointment that the Windies were no longer a four-paced prong attack that had the cricketing universe cowering and quivering. But they made it clear that they want to resuscitate the flailing state of WICB’s affairs. They want to be a catalyst for the Windies to ensure the peacetime so many teams are receiving today comes to an abrupt halt. They’ve seen and endured enough trials and tribulations, as players and now as spectators. These gentlemen of the game seek to reignite the region’s spark and rekindle the ‘pace like fire’ trope. It’s good news for Windies fans who have been long awaiting the day when we can boast such a new-ball partnership again. The wait continues.