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Dean Jones commits the sin of forcing Curtly Ambrose to remove his wristband

Curtly Ambrose changed into a whole new demon after Dean Jones asked him to take off his wristband © Getty Images
Curtly Ambrose (above) changed into a whole new demon after Dean Jones asked him to take off his wristband © Getty Images

Dean Jones had committed the cardinal sin of asking Curtly Ambrose to remove his wristband during the first final of the World Series Cup of January 16, 1993. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the kind of day that proves why you shouldn’t mess with certain cricketers.

JK Rowling had used the Latin phrase “draco dormiens nunquam titillandus” as the Hogwarts motto. It directly translates to “never tickle a sleeping dragon” in English. It was not a line quoted in the passing, just like that: it was supposed to be a lesson for life.

One should never disturb a dragon, or for that matter, a tiger or a lion or any such ferocious creature when he’s not angry. That was precisely the lesson Dean Jones had forgotten on that fateful evening at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). He had dared to get under the skin of Curtly Ambrose: his team ended up paying for it.

 

Spinners hold back West Indies

West Indies were off to a great start after Richie Richardson had elected to bat in the first final of the 1992-93 Benson & Hedges World Series Cup, with the young Brian Lara and the experienced Desmond Haynes adding 90 runs in 77 minutes. While Haynes kept the seamers at bay, Lara went after them, and eventually scored a dazzling 81-ball 67.

The Australian noose tightened once the spinners came on: both Greg Matthews and Allan Border bowled well, reducing the scoring-rate. Carl Hooper and Gus Logie then counterattacked, taking the score past 200 before Steve Waugh broke through, clean bowling Hooper.

As wickets kept falling, Logie kept on improvising and adding valuable runs. When Logie was bowled by Steve Waugh in the last ball of the innings West Indies had managed to amass 239 for eight.

 

Tickling the sleeping dragon

Ambrose was not in the best of moods: after giving the first over to Ian Bishop, Richardson had opened bowling with Phil Simmons at the other end. When Ambrose was eventually brought on in the sixth over of the match, he was not in the best of moods, ready to go at the hapless Australians.

Things began peacefully as Mark Taylor and David Boon got Australia off to a patient start, adding 41 for the opening stand. Then Boon tried to cut Ambrose through point and edged one to Junior Murray. Jones walked out to bat (with a broken thumb) against Ambrose, who already had his tail up.

Then it happened. Jones took guard, and before facing a ball walked up to Terry Prue. After a brief discussion with the batsman, Prue asked Ambrose to take off the wristband off his right hand. “Umpire Prue has a difficult task here: he has to convince Curtly Ambrose, who is six-foot-eight”, said Richie Benaud on air.

Recollecting the incident Jones later said: “He [Ambrose] was definitely trying some form of camouflage. I didn’t think much of it at the time.” Clearly he did not have an idea of what was in store. Ambrose was not amused. He wanted to have a tussle with Jones that would not necessarily involve cricket.

Jones had later tried to defend his action. He had complained that Ambrose, with his white wristbands in ODIs and red ones in Tests and an action that involved shaking his bowling wrist vigorously when he ran in to bowl, was impossible to decipher. After a conference with Bobby Simpson and Border, Jones had already decided that he would ask Ambrose to take his band off.

Richardson had to intervene: he had to convince Ambrose that the best possible retaliation for Ambrose would be with the ball. “You should never wake a sleeping lion,” were the exact words the big man said to the audacious Australian. Then he charged down. “That could generate an extra yard or two to his pace,” said Benaud. “The broken thumb might get a severe bit of pasting,” warned Ian Chappell.

Then he roared in. The next ball was way faster than the previous one: it pitched short came at Jones at a menacing pace; Jones did well to not attempt a stroke and keep his bat out of the way. The next one, slightly pitched up, hit Jones on the knee-roll – but the appeal was turned down by Prue.

Ambrose grew more and more devastating as the spell progressed, being particularly harsh on “Deano”, hitting him on the pads and knuckles and jarring his hands and beating his bat with pace and bounce. Poor Taylor got one that pitched on the leg-stump and simply took off: Taylor’s attempted flick resulted in a leading edge and ballooned to Simmons at point.

Jones probably “escaped” Ambrose when he fell to Kenny Benjamin. Hooper picked up a couple of wickets, but once Ambrose was taken off, Mark Waugh and Ian Healy threatened to take the match away. Mark Waugh was run out by Richardson for 51, but Healy kept the attack going.

Richardson brought Ambrose back for one final burst after Benjamin removed Matthews. Ambrose had Tony Dodemaide almost immediately, caught by Lara. After having a few swipes, Healy tried to hit Ambrose to the cow-shot corner. As the brilliantly disguised slower delivery shattered the timber the big man broke into a wide grin – as did Healy on his way back.

The match came to an end when Craig McDermott holed out to Simmons while trying to clear the extra-cover fence off Ambrose, who finished with five for 32. Australia lost by 25 runs.

 

What followed?

- West Indies won the second final at MCG as well, clinching the trophy. Once again Ambrose came to the party with figures of 10-0-26-3, and the target of 148 was reached easily with fifties from Lara and Hooper (though, surprisingly, none of the six other batsmen passed ten). Ambrose was, without a doubt, the player of the finals.

- The incident incensed Ambrose to such an extent that he followed the series with a ten-wicket haul that resulted in a one-run victory at Adelaide, followed by a once-in-a-lifetime spell of seven for one at the WACA ground.

 

Brief scores:

 

West Indies 239 for 8 in 50 overs (Brian Lara 67, Carl Hooper 45) beat Australia 214 in 49.3 overs (Mark Waugh 51; Curtly Ambrose 5 for 32) by 25 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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