Richie Richardson (right) dragging the giant figure Curtly Ambrose (centre) from strangulating Steve Waugh (left) to death after one of the ugliest on-field confrontations ever seen on a cricket field © Getty Images
Richie Richardson (right) dragging the giant figure Curtly Ambrose (centre) from strangulating Steve Waugh (left) to death after one of the ugliest on-field confrontations ever seen on a cricket field © Getty Images

April 21, 1995. Curtly Ambrose and Steve Waugh almost came to blows at Queen’s Park Oval. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the incident that Waugh says brought him close to ‘death by strangulation.’

Even Shane Warne certified this incident as the ugliest incident on the cricket field he had witnessed, even when everything involving Arjuna Ranatunga was taken into consideration.

It was at the Queen’s Park Oval, 1995. West Indies, not beaten in a series for 16 years, was in the unaccustomed situation of being one match down. Curtly Ambrose had not been among the wickets for the first two Tests. And here, he was greeted by a carpet of green that seemed to have been rolled out on the pitch for him and his fast bowling cronies. The wicket could hardly be picked up from the gumleaf-green square, covered by grass almost an inch long and damp to boot.

David Shepherd, who officiated in the match, later said in an interview, “I looked at the pitch and said to the groundsmen, ‘I know I am Shepherd, but did you expect a flock of sheep as well!’”

After Richie Richardson won the toss and put the Aussies in, Courtney Walsh snared Michael Slater, and Ambrose got rid of Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh. Steve Waugh walked in at 14 for three, with the giant fast bowler breathing fire. “When the ball seams like that, it does not matter whether you are Brian Lara or Don Bradman; you are not going to get runs consistently,” Australian coach Bob Simpson said later.

The first few overs were spent in peppering Waugh with a barrage of short balls. And then, according to Waugh’s West Indian Tour Diary: “(Ambrose) followed through to within two metres away from me and gave me the regulation Clint Eastwood stare. I thought he went on with the silent assassin-style interrogation for longer (than) was necessary, so I came back with, ‘What the f@#% are you looking at?'”

Ambrose stopped in his tracks even as he had started to turn. His face showed that he was aghast beyond words. Having had time to reflect on his bizarre show of bravado, Waugh now says: “No one had ever been stupid enough to speak to him like that.”

Now that the Australian batsman had done the unthinkable, the big fast bowler came within an inch of him and said, “Don’t cuss me, maan.”

Waugh writes in graphic detail about the scene that followed — which must have visited him recurrently in not too pleasant dreams: “His eyeballs were spinning and as he edged to within a metre, it seemed he was ready to erupt. At this point, I gave him a short but sweet reply that went down about as well as an anti-malaria tablet. Fortunately, Richie Richardson moved in swiftly to avert what could have been my death by strangulation, and the game continued.”

As the dramatic video clips and photographs show, Richardson was forced to physically remove Ambrose from the fray.

What was the short sweet response that Waugh speaks about? In Out of my Comfort Zone, Waugh lifted the lid on the last fuzzy bit about the incident, writing, “Unfortunately, nothing inventive or witty came to mind, rather another piece of personal abuse: ‘Why don’t you go and get f**%@-ed?'”

Richardson recalls, “It probably looked as if it could have been serious, but I don’t think it would have been. I said to Curtly, ‘Come, don’t waste my time, let’s get on with the job. Our job is to get him out.'”

When asked about the possibility of an actual physical confrontation, Richardson played it down, saying, “No, no, no. It never would have happened. Both guys are serious competitors and they are also professional, and there’s no way they would have brought the game into disrepute.”

The next two balls were about as fast as Ambrose has ever bowled in his career.

At the end of the day, Waugh was unrepentant. “It’s Test cricket. If you want an easy game, go play netball,” he said. However, reading sections of his autobiography and tour diary reproduced above one gets the feeling that he had second thoughts later on.

The spat seemed to spur both the champions to great feats. Ambrose captured 5 for 45 to skittle out the Australians for 128, but Waugh remained unbeaten on a heroic 63.

What followed?

Australia came back to dismiss West Indies for 136 in the first innings, Glenn McGrath picking up 6 wickets. However, Ambrose was at his best in the second innings as well, picking up four, while Courtney Walsh and Kenny Benjamin managed three each. Australia lost the last 7 wickets for 20 to be all out for 105.

Stuart Williams and Richardson added 81 for the opening stand and West Indies won by nine wickets. The series was level at 1-1 as the teams moved to Jamaica for the decider.

Brief scores:

Australia 128 (Steve Waugh 63*; Curtly Ambrose 5 for 45) and 105 (Curtly Ambrose 4 for 20) lost to West Indies 136 (Jimmy Adams 42; Glenn McGrath 6 for 47) and 98 for 1 (Stuart Williams 42) by 9 wickets.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)