Couch Talk 127 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former West Indian great Sir Curtly Ambrose. He talks about the Caribbean Premier league, his job as the West Indies bowling consultant and also about his legendary bowling career.
Hi, Sir Curtly, how are you?
Curtly Ambrose (CA)– Very well, Subash. Thanks. How are you?
SJ– I’m well, thank you. Thanks for being on the show. I want to talk a little bit about the CPL, and you as the West Indies bowling consultant, and a little bit about your playing career.
To begin with, when the CPL T20 was formed last year, you had expressed some concerns in February 2013 about how quickly it came into being and how quickly it was put together, etc. We have had a season of it and the second season is upon us. You have been a part of it as well as assistant coach for Guyana [Amazon Warriors]. What are your feelings about the CPL T20 now?
CA– I am still very excited about it, the 2014 edition. When I walk around the Caribbean, everyone is talking about the T20, the CPL coming up. When I heard about the CPL last year, I was very excited because other parts of the world played T20 cricket and we saw all the buzz – the IPL, the Big Bash, the buzz and the culture. So for Caribbean to have the CPL, we were very excited. However, I had a small reservation because I know Caribbean people. Once they start something new, we tend to stay back and watch it first and see how its going to go. Once it is going well, then we will support. So, that was my only concern as to whether it was going to be supported [by the people of the Caribbean].
From the very first day, there were sold out crowds and that went through the whole tournament. Some people couldn’t even get into the stadium. Some great cricket was played as well. So, a combination of quality cricket and the sold out crowds at the game, to me it was a really big success last year and am looking forward to the 2014 edition. Hopefully we maintain the standard, or even go beyond it even though that’s a tall order.
SJ– So, what sort of impact do you think it will have on the cricketing talent in the Caribbean in terms of getting more people to choose cricket as a career, and also providing spotlight on the existing talents?
CA– T20 to me has got a big part to play in cricket because it is such an exciting game. A lot of people watch T20 cricket. They turn out for T20 games. The youngsters want to play the T20 game. Getting the youngsters to start playing the game is always the hardest thing to do. Once they play T20 cricket, that is a start. Then you can get them to the longer format of the game. So, the answer for me is that T20 has a really big part to play. The way cricket is in the Caribbean at the moment the CPL is a breath of fresh air because it generates a lot of interest for aspiring cricketers.
SJ– Have you ever wondered how you would have gone on as a bowler in the T20 format?
CA– I wouldn’t say that I wondered about it or thought about it. I’ve been asked this question before, and yes, I would have loved to play T20. T20 is really a batsman’s game. right? So, it is difficult for a bowler, any bowler, and a bowler thrives on competition. So, I would love the competition to play T20. It would be a real test of my bowling skills. You have to bowl just 4 overs [Laughs], but yes, I would have loved the challenge.
SJ– What things would you have done, or what do you tell your main bowlers, the things that they should do to excel in the format?
CA– I think the real key about bowling in T20 cricket is variety. That is the key. You have 4 overs to bowl. You have no margin for error. One bad over can cost you the game. On the other hand, one brilliant over could win your team the game as well.. You must be able to bowl quick deliveries, slower deliveries and cutters. Variety is the key, to me, to be a good T20 bowler.
SJ– Now, you are the bowling consultant with the West Indies team as well. What is your role there and what is it that you want to accomplish in that role?
CA– What we want to accomplish collectively is to take West Indies cricket back to no.1, if not, at least in the top 3 cricket teams in the world. That is our goal, collectively. The West Indies coach Ottis Gibson asked me if I could be a part of the West Indies set up, I told him I would be happy to do it, because I had always thought that at the end of my career, whatever experience and knowledge I gained over the years, I would be more than happy to give back to West Indies cricket. U-15, u-19, senior level, whatever. Anything for West Indies cricket. When coach asked me to be a part of it, I didn’t have think about it much, and I said “Yes.” I bring a wealth of experience, I have been a part of the best team in the world for many years. I always believed that I gained valuable experience that I can teach these guys to become better bowlers.
In terms of my role, I told Coach Gibson that I’ll try and get into the heads of these bowlers, to make them understand what it takes to be successful, what it takes to become a legend, to get your team to the top. Those are the things that I have to teach them. That is not so much about telling them how to bowl, I just have to fine tune them, tweak them a bit. On the mental side of it, give directions, give them a good understanding. This is what I do.
SJ– Ok. West Indies, over a long period, relied on an endless line of fast bowlers to assert their prominence in world cricket. Now, you don’t have an out and out fast bowlers coming from the Caribbean. Any thoughts on why that might be so?
CA– There is two halves as to why that is in the Caribbean. One, they need proper guidance and once they are willing to learn they can become great fast bowlers over time. What happened is, the pitches have changed quite a lot. They are very slow, nothing much for the fast bowlers. You find that a lot of spinners are coming through because of the nature of the pitches. However, I believe that a couple of good fast bowlers and a couple of good spinners who can bowl teams out twice consistently is always a good combination. Back in our time, we had our main fast bowlers who got the job done. But today, different surfaces, so you need a combination of quality fast bowlers and quality spinners who will get the job done.
SJ– I want to talk briefly about your playing career. It is common knowledge that basketball was the sport of your choice when you grew up. but, once you made your debut for WI, you had Courtney Walsh playing there for four years. What sort of relationship did you have with him being the senior bowler?
CA– You are quite right about basketball. Basketball was my first love. I wanted to be an NBA basketball player, rather than a cricketer. However, I have no regrets representing my country for so many years, it means a lot to me – a privilege, an honour – to play for my country. I have no regrets.
In terms of my partnership with Courtney Walsh, our secret to success was very simple. Courtney and I never tried to out-do each other. That was the key. If it was my day for taking wickets, his job was simply to keep the pressure at the other end. And vice versa. If it was his day to take wickets, it was my job to keep the pressure on. We never tried to out-do each other. We complemented each other very well. That was the key for our success.
SJ– Was there any particular match – a Test, an ODI or a first class match, even – that you can pin point to looking back on it and say that “I have arrived as a fast bowler in cricket”?
CA– That is a good question. When I started my career, I was still learning day by day the fast bowling art. Some other guys like Courtney Walsh, the late Malcolm Marshall, they were in the team, there were some great players. Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge etc. so, we had some great players. I was forced to learn my trade quickly, because I never wanted to be the weak link. We had a very, very powerful WI team. I am a very proud man, and had to learn quickly. I would say that I really came of age probably two years into international cricket. I didn’t have success right when I started. I would say that [I arrived as a fast bowler] in 1990, 2 years since my debut, I believed that I really become a bowler.
SJ– In the year 1992-93 in Australia, you had one of the most devastating spells in cricket. And of course, you have been instrumental in some WI’s most spoken about wins as well. is there any Test match that stands out in your memory where you did everything right and everything turned out great with WI winning etc?
CA– To me, that is probably the best series for me – not just personally, but for the team. Why? Because we went to Australia with a very young team. Richie Richardson was the captain, who had won just 1 Test as a captain to his name, and that was against South Africa. So, he was pretty new at the job and we had a lot of young players. Brian Lara – he went to Australia with just two Tests to his name. Jimmy Adams had one. Some of the guys had none. Basically, it was a young team. We were in rebuilding process. We had just lost Vivian Richards, Greenidge, Dujon, a lot of other players. So, we had a lot of young players going to Australia playing against a powerful Australian team led by the great Allan Border. So, no one gave us any chance to win a series. We came out of the series winning, 2-1. We won the Test series, we won the ODI series as well. The team that went to Australia was still a great team, even though it was very young. We believed that we could win the series. That was the thing that took us over the line. We never gave up. Everyone thought that we had no chance, but we decided to compete. Winning that series in Australia, to me, was very, very satisfying.
SJ– Was there any particular batsman that you looked forward to bowling to? Is there any particular innings of a batsman that you were bowling against that stands out in your memory, that you admired even?
CA– No. no such batsman that I wanted to bowl at. It is hard work being a fast bowler [Laughs].
I believe that in every team, the first 6 batsmen are the best in the team. If I can remove 2 or 3 of the top 6, then I can get some satisfaction, that I am doing well and put my team in a good position. I get more satisfaction when I take any of the first 6 than of the last 3 or 4. Taking 2 or 3 of the top 6 all the time is always something that I loved to do, and that put my team in a great position.
SJ– One last question, and this is a listener question from Shyam – Which one is the more unlikely win for the West Indies? The 1-run win over Australia in Adelaide or the win over India in Barbados where West Indies defended 120? Which one was the more unlikely one for you?
CA– Well, they were both great Test matches. When you look at India’s batting line up, including (Sachin) Tendulkar, chasing 120 you would have thought would have been an easy task for India. Tendulkar alone could have scored 30 of those runs, because he is that good. So, other people never gave us a chance to defend 120. It was a strong Indian batting line up. But, we did it. It was very satisfying.
The one run win against Australia at Adelaide – that was like a [inaudible] as well, because it was a tough Test match. It was a very tough Test match. I thought we had it won long before that, because we had got to the no.11. Throughout that series, Tim May didn’t really survive for very long when he came in to bat. We thought with the no.11 coming in, it will be all over. But, this time the no.11 stuck around for a while. They came within one run. To win with one run, that was something really phenomenal. We never gave up though. That was one of the thing, we never gave up. we all believed that we were still going to win. I think we deserved to have won that Test match, because I thought we played the best cricket.
SJ– Fair enough!
I think I am out of time here. Thank you so much for being on the show, Sir Curtly.
CA– No problem. Thank you!
Sir Curtly Ambrose will mentor the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the 2014 Limacol Caribbean Premier League. The Biggest Party in Sport begins in Grenada on 11th July – for more info visit CPLT20.com
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman