Curtly Ambrose    Getty Images
Curtly Ambrose Getty Images

Born September 21, 1963, Sir Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose is a former West Indies fast bowler, who terrorised the batsmen world over with his huge frame, lethal pace and venomous stare. A top-class performer, Ambrose remained the best bowler on the planet for much part of his career. On his 54th birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 21 interesting facts from the life of the reclusive West Indian giant.

1. Basketball: His first love

Ambrose was inclined towards basketball in his youth and aspired to move to the USA to make a career in the sport. He did play tennis ball cricket on the beach and for his school team all this while, but avoided the game as he thought it was too long . He eventually turned to cricket at a relatively late age, playing his first First-Class match well past his 22nd birthday.

2. First job

His first job was in a clothes store. He felt it was not manly enough, and opted for a more masculine job in working as a carpenter.

3. The late arriver

Though taking up professional cricket quite late in life, Ambrose made an immediate impression as a fast bowler and quickly rose through the ranks.

4. The Viv Richards scholarship

Ambrose went to England in 1986 on a Viv Richards scholarship and played for Chester Boughton Hall in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition taking 84 wickets in 362.1 overs at an average of 9.80. The following year, he returned to England to play for Heywood Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire League, for whom he took 115 wickets in the season; these experiences helped to improve his bowling technique. Post his return, he progressed through regional and national teams and was first chosen for the West Indies in 1988.

5. Test debut

Ambrose made his Test debut against the touring Pakistan side at Georgetown, Guyana in 1988. The first of his two wickets that came in the match was Mudassar Nazar; other one being Ijaz Ahmed. Ambrose remained unbeaten with the bat, scoring 25 and 1 not out in the match which Pakistan eventually won.

6. First Man of the Match award

Ambrose picked his first Man of the Match award at Headingley against England, finishing with 4 for 58 and 3 for 40. West Indies clinched the series with that Test, and eventually finished with a 4-0 margin.

7. First five-for

On his maiden Australian tour of 1988-89, Ambrose picked up his first five-for at WACA. On a pitch known for its pace and bounce, Ambrose put up a devastating show of fast bowling on display and finished with 5 for 72 and 3 for 66. He also broke Geoff Lawson s jaw with a snorter in that match.

8. Best against England

Against England at Kensington Oval during the 1990 series, Ambrose scripted his best First-Class performance of 8 for 45. He finished the match with figures of 10 for 127, which was also his first ten-for.

9. Wisden Cricketer of the Year

Ambrose finished the England tour with 51 wickets at 17.03. His performances in the year 1991 earned him the Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

10. Ambrose the batsman

In the opening match of Benson & Hedges World Series in 1991, India were bowled out for 126. In reply, West Indians were 69 for 7 when Ambrose walked in. They were soon reeling at 76 for 8 when Anderson Cummins walked out to join him. The pair hung on and added a crucial 37 before Ambrose was run out for 17, ending the match in a tie.

11. Spoiled South Africa s comeback party

South Africa made their Test comeback in 1991-92 in a solitary Test against the West Indies. Set a modest 201 for victory, South Africa ended the fourth day at 122 for two. On the fifth day they could add only 26 more runs, as Ambrose destroyed them with a devastating spell of 24.4-7-34-6 and scripted a famous West Indies win.

12. His best spell

In 1992-93 against Australia at Perth, Ambrose bowled the spell of his life when he picked seven wickets for just a single run. Australia at one stage were going smoothly at 85 for two, but Ambrose s spell restricted them to 119. They never recovered, and lost the Test by an innings, and along with it the series.

13. Lost his temper

During the first Final of the Benson and Hedges Cup, Dean Jones asked Ambrose to take the sweatband off his right wrist, as the ball got camouflaged in the process. He obliged, but his body language changed. An infuriated Ambrose ran through the Australians with 5 for 32. Australia lost by 25 runs and then went on to lose the second final as well.

Against Australia at Queen s Park Oval in 1994-95, Ambrose was going full throttle when Steve Waugh clashed with him. After his customary stare at the batsman, Ambrose was taken aback when Waugh came back with cuss words. Both charged at each other and soon the spat became ugly. It took the then West Indian skipper Richie Richardson some effort to pull the giant back. Ambrose eventually picked up 5 for 45 to bowl out Australia for 128 but he could not fell Waugh; who remained unbeaten on 63; Ambrose followed up with 4 for 20 and West Indies squared the series with a nine-wicket victory.

14. The 1996 World Cup disappointment

Ambrose was having a great World Cup as West Indies sailed through to the Semi Finals, where they were to take on the Australians at Mohali. Ambrose and Ian Bishop opened the bowling and soon Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting fell to Ambrose for ducks. At the other end, Bishop took out Taylor and Steve Waugh, and Australia were soon 15 for 4. It took Stuart Law and Michael Bevan a herculean effort to help Australia reach 207 for 8.

At 165 for 2, West Indies looked the favourites to win but Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne scripted a surprise turnaround with quick wickets. Ambrose walked out with the score on 194 for 8 to join Richardson. On 202, however, Ambrose got involved in a terrible mix-up with Richardson and was run out. With Walsh falling for a golden duck West Indies lost by 5 runs.

Ambrose recollects the incident, that still haunts him up to this day, as The One That Got Away.

15. Nine no-balls in an over

Against the Australians in 1997, at one of his favourite hunting grounds Western Australia Cricket Ground (WACA), Perth, Ambrose lost his radar completely, sending down nine no-balls in an over, following it with six more in the next. He was taken off after figures of 9-2-50-2 (that included 20 no-balls).

16. The second-most economical bowling figures

Against Sri Lanka at Sharjah in 1999, Ambrose conjured figures of 10-5-5-1. The bigger achievement though was keeping the destructive Sanath Jayasuriya at the crease and not allowing him to score runs. His figures remain the second-most economic figures for any bowler who had bowled his complete quota after Phil Simmons 10-8-3-4 (Bishan Bedi had figures of 12-8-6-1).

17. Numero Uno

Ambrose was rated the top bowler according to ICC ratings in 1991; he did not slide past the number two slot till 1998. He finished as sixth, dropping two positions in his last series mostly due to the fact that his efforts did not convert to victories.

18. Retirement

Ambrose retired after the England tour of 2000. He ended his career with impressive stats; 405 wickets in 98 Tests at an average just below 21. In the 176 ODIs that he played, he took 225 wickets at 24.12 and a brilliant economy rate of 3.48.

19. Fast bowler-turned-musician

Music had always been one of Ambrose s passions. At present, he is involved with the band Spirited as the bassist. He had previously been a part of the band “The Big Bad Dread and the Bald Head”. Though he had decided not to keep any attachment with cricket post-retirement, he did follow the West Indies team s fortunes and also connected again with cricket recently when he took up the role of team s bowling coach.

20. Mother s celebration

Ambrose shares on his website that whenever he took a Test wicket, his mother would rush onto the balcony of her home in Swetes Village, Antigua, to triumphantly ring a special bell to celebrate.

21. Time to talk

Curtly Ambrose was a man of few words on and off the pitch. He was notoriously reluctant to speak to journalists, turning down countless interview requests with his customary remark “Curtly talk to no man”. So it was hardly surprising that he called his autobiography Time to Talk , which had forewords by Richie Benaud and Steve Waugh.

Inputs from Abhishek Mukherjee