Curtly Ambrose: West Indies legend who was one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time
Describing Curtly Ambrose is possibly one of the toughest challenges for anyone: you can write about the feral aggression in every made-to-look-easy footstep of the man as he ran in to bowl; or the mean, hostile look in his eyes that would send a chill down the spine of the bravest of warriors; or the immaculate configuration of the torso just before the ball was released; or the antagonistic pace, the fuming bounce, and the relentless accuracy.
But what about the bowler as a whole? Ambrose was more than the sum of his parts: you do not have the words to describe the way he kept your eyes glued to the television screen the moment he ran in to bowl. You knew something was going to happen. It might not be a wicket: it might have been just a dot ball that would climb up the batsman’s throat from a length, making it impossible for him to score a run off.
And when the unthinkable happened — when some batsman was capable (and unfortunate) enough to hit him for a boundary he would walk straight to the centre of the pitch: the eyes would remain quiet as always, but you could not help notice the venom in them. It made you squirm in terror: think of what it did to the batsman.
Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose would feature among the top 10 devastating fast bowlers of all time, and that is not an exaggeration. He bowled in an era when heavy bats, helmeted batsman, batsman-friendly bouncer rules, and — in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) — fielding restrictions for the first 15 overs had come into being.
Despite the handicaps Ambrose was devastating as any fast bowler from any era; he never erred in line or length, he was fast (he could be faster if you had somehow committed the grave error of getting under his skin), he could extract unreal bounce, and despite not being gifted with the ability to move the ball prodigiously in the air he made up for it with lethal movements off the surface.
Ambrose’s wrist typically snapped forward during the release — which was the reason that Clyde Cumberbatch, the umpire from Trinidad, had called him for chucking once. However, his action is undoubtedly legal: the wrist action — reminiscent of Michael Holding’s and Courtney Walsh’s — added to the nip in his bowling. As the ball descended from a height of over 10 feet (Ambrose was 6’7”; add to that the leap and the overhead extension of the arm) the nip allowed the ball to take off the moment it landed on the surface.