An Evening with Curtly Ambrose – Coming on First Change

19th January 2014

The Mason & Guests Show

Playing host to legends

I have been pinching myself for days now, and neglecting to commit to record a summary of the evening. Yes, I really did get to appear on a radio show with Curtly Ambrose.

I introduced myself to him in the Starcom Network studios’ lobby when he arrived. Shortly thereafter an employee came through, heading for the exit.

“Good evening,” he said to the radio station’s receptionist. “Good evening,” he nodded to me. “Good eve… THAT’S CURTLY AMBROSE!!!” he ejaculated to the third person in the waiting area.

“I must have a picture!” he insisted, and pulled the big man to his feet (not an easy thing to do with a fellow fully a foot taller than you), and thrust his camera/phone into the hands of the receptionist.

“You must get this a lot?” I said to Curtly. “Please meet the winner of the international Curtly Ambrose lookalike contest,” I said to the excited chap, who beamed as though he’d just bowled Tendulkar for nought.

As the show began, Andrew had a headache. But I fed him a couple of paracetamol and like a proper professional he just got on with it.

He opened up by referring to the recent appointment of Kevin Stoute and Kraigg Brathwaite to replace Kirk Edwards as captain of Barbados, an announcement which Reds Perreira had described, especially in Stoute’s case, as “coming from left field”. Andrew was more incensed by the manner of the announcement than its contents:

AM: “Why no press conference? Why the change? Why aren’t we told?”

He was particularly annoyed at what he considered to be ‘appointment by press release’, which was entirely impersonal in its delivery. This was the latest case of the BCA not making itself available to being questioned, or to offer any explanation or interaction with the media and cricket community.

He turned to our first guest, Dr Don Marshall, to see if he had any idea what was going on (Don was later that evening described by Keith Holder on CBC’s ‘Mid Wicket’ cricket show as a player who “bowls off a short run, and delivers off the wrong foot”). Don wasn’t wrong-footed by Andrew’s question, but his reply was short. He wondered if the move may be strategic, but couldn’t provide any credible answer.

I suggested that with Edwards stepping down, in the same week that Denesh Ramdin was relieved of the one-day Trinidad & Tobago captaincy in favour of Dwayne Bravo, it may make the succession to Darren Sammy’s job a little clearer. Ramdin, and Edwards to a lesser extent, were both seen as potential alternatives to carry the Test leadership mantle, but must now be less likely candidates.

Bravo now was surely being lined up for the top job; and there would be the opportunity and possibility of Brathwaite succeeding Bravo sometime in the future. Perhaps Barbados are grooming him as Bravo’s successor? If this was what was going on, then the Test captaincy succession was becoming somewhat smoother – something we have argued for on this programme for some time. I doubt this is shrewd machiavellian planning on the part of respective Caribbean boards, but such a scenario could nonetheless be the upshot.

Andrew was equally annoyed by the news that out-of-favour ex-Test player Ryan Hinds had been summoned to the Barbados practice nets, with a view to possible inclusion in the Super50 squad, then discarded. What did I make of it?

DO: “It’s rather like asking a top Hollywood superstar to come along and audition for a part, and then telling him he hasn’t got it. You know what he can do already. You don’t bother with a screen-test. You either give it to him or you don’t.”

It was time for Curtly. Andrew hadn’t given him the first over – but he was now bringing him on. He asked me to set the field:

AM: “David, we have a very special guest in the studio this evening, if you’d like to introduce him?”

DO: “Yes, thank you, Andrew. A very special guest indeed. A man described by Steve Waugh as ‘the supreme fast bowling machine.’ A fast bowler who took 405 wickets in 98 Tests at 20.99, and took 762 wickets in partnership with Courtney Walsh in the 95 Tests they played alongside each other. A man who was Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1992, and inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2011. And the subject of one of my favourite, and shortest, cricket stories, told by Allan Border. He said, ‘Curtly Ambrose bowled me a half-volley… once.’ Mr. Curtly Ambrose.”

“How did you know I’m in Barbados?” Curtly asked Andrew with a mischievous grin. Curtly is on the island helping to prepare the Combined Campuses & Colleges team for the upcoming Super50 regional tournament in T&T.

CA: “I’m here whipping the CCC guys into shape. I set the bar very high. I’ve been with CCC for two years – it’s a short tournament – so we want to hit the traps running. Floyd Reifer (captain) brings guidance to the table to the young players. We are playing to win it!”

Quite right too. The CCC were losing finalists last year, and despite only gaining admittance this season after the USA turned down an offer to take part, are quite capable of producing further surprises. Dr Marshall said CCC would be a strong force to be reckoned with.

We were joined on the line by the CEO of the T&T cricket board, Suruj Ragoonath, who played two Tests for the West Indies in 1999. Andrew asked him if there was a buzz in T&T at the moment ahead of the tournament? He was refreshingly honest:

SR: “No, not at the moment. But we expect a buzz to start after its official launch on Thursday.”

Also on the line was Vinode Mamchan of the T&T Guardian. He helped the CEO out:

VM: “People are still focusing on their calypso ahead of the T&T carnival!”

Mr Ragoonath revealed that the T&T board are hoping the Super50 would be a success, not least because he believed a gap in the Future Tours Programme, caused by the cancellation of the Champions Trophy (and likely scrapping of the Test Championship) would leave an opening for a future World 50-over club championship – and that T&T would be a prime candidate to host it.

This would be particularly helpful he admitted, because the T&T board are currently in a deficit position. “Running a national board has its challenges!” he confessed. Andrew moved onto asking Vinode about Darren Bravo’s early return from the tour of New Zealand:

AM: “What’s happening with Darren Bravo? Where is he? What were the reasons for his coming home?”

VM: “Andrew, the last time I looked in the wardrobe I had no warm clothes! It’s too personal to broadcast.” Very interesting.

AM: “Dwayne Bravo is now the captain of T&T we understand. Does that include the 4-day side?”

VM: “I’m not sure. There is some jockeying for position.” Suruj outlined the board’s position:

SR: “Ramdin may yet be the 4-day captain. We haven’t decided. But it is our thinking to develop Bravo’s captaincy. We feel that is our responsibility.”

Andrew asked how the weather was in T&T?

SR: “Unpredictable at the moment.”

AM: “And the pitches? I hope they’re not low and slow! We want good pitches with runs.”

SR: “They’ll be good pitches for batsmen. And bowlers. A good contest, offering the bowlers something. Perhaps a little bowler friendly.” The CEO had speedily progressed from promising flat belters to green tops and sticky dogs within a single answer.

AM: “And how much does it cost to put on?”

SR: “US$1.8 – US$2million. We still have a few funding concerns for the tournament.” Well let’s hope they find the money.

After an interval, and my ‘Around the World in 2’ segment, we opened up the phone lines for ‘An Evening with Curtly Ambrose’, and what one caller referred to as his ‘pearls of wisdom’.

Andrew started by asking him his opinion on the current state of West Indies cricket:

CA: “It’s fourteen years since I left Test cricket. Even before I left the scene we had problems. You could see the cracks. Courtney and I carried the bowling. Brian Lara carried the batting. But I’m amazed we’re still in the slump. Something is definitely wrong with our cricket. It’s not a lack of ability or talent.”

Andrew asked Curtly what he thought of the current crop of fast bowlers:

CA: “I’m very disappointed in our bowling. Consistency of line and length – that’s what matters. Forget about swing, seam, pace, all that stuff. Consistency is the first thing to learn.”

He went on to assess several individually:

CA: “Tino is a hard worker. But inconsistent. I can’t understand why! What’s wrong with our coaches? Gabriel is still a young man learning the art. Our coaches need to work with these guys a lot more. Ravi (Rampaul) carries a bit of weight, but puts it in the right areas. I’ve not seen much of Cottrell, but a left-armer could be an asset.”

AM: “What’s your view of Kemar Roach?”

CA: “I don’t know what’s happening with him. He was our shining light. Fidel (Edwards) has natural pace, and swings the ball too. His problem is, like many, he can’t stay on the park. He’s injured every couple of games. These guys aren’t strong enough.”

AM: “How did you train?”

CA: “I’m a bad example! Desmond Haynes said I’m a freak of nature! But I watch guys training today, and they put the emphasis on body building. Well, that’s good for stamina, but you need to be match fit, and to be match ready you need to bowl – and bowl a lot!”

AM: “Is there light at the end of the tunnel?”

CA: “I believe so. There are some bowlers in the region who can make the grade. But they need proper coaching and guidance to understand the basics of fast bowling. If you can’t bowl teams out twice you aren’t going to win many matches!”

Andrew naturally asked Curtly whether Darren Sammy should be leading the side?

CA: “In the Test squad I do have a problem with him. He wouldn’t make the Test team if he wasn’t captain.”

Andrew then asked Curtly about his own career, and when he took up cricket?

CA: “I started at 21. Some people say I started late. I prefer to say ‘I chose my time wisely!’ My first love was basketball, but I was pressured into playing cricket by my mother after my elder brother migrated to the USA. I came into the Leeward Islands squad when they already had Benjamin, Ferris, Merrick and Baptiste, so when I wasn’t selected I didn’t care. I wasn’t interested in cricket anyway!”

Don Marshall: “How was your dressing room in the good old days?”

CA: “It was a lot more fun in the early days – it always is when you’re winning. But it’s important to always enjoy the game. We’re not robots! You must enjoy your job to be good at it.”

Pearson Bovell had arrived as our third guest in the studio, and he asked Curtley:

PB: “How did you adjust to bowling different lengths to different batsmen of varying heights, with a different crease position, etc.?”

CA: “That’s what makes you a special bowler. You need to observe things. These are simple things you need to do quickly, or he’ll be quickly 30-40 before you adjust. Lengths have to vary, and quickly. Often from ball to ball.”

I hadn’t put my mind to asking the great man any questions. I was happy just to sit back and listen to him talk. But my brother Robert, listening over in the UK via the internet, as he and my Dad do regularly, emailed me some super ones:

DO: “If you were picking an all-time West Indies XI, would you be in it?” He considered for a moment.

CA: “Yes. Malcolm (Marshall), Michael Holding then me.” Curtly has himself coming on first change! I cheekily pointed that out to him; and later, after the show, said that if Michael Holding were picking the team, he’d have Andy Roberts.

DO: “Was there a pace bowler your equal in your time? If not, who was the closest?”

CA: “Good question. Wasim Akram was top of the tree. He was my all-time favourite. He did something with the ball ordinary bowlers couldn’t do. And McGrath. He was a great bowler too.”

DO: “Who were the top 3 batsmen you bowled to?”

CA: “Viv (Richards) and Lara are at the top. And Ponting. Steve Waugh – he was very tough. And of course Tendulkar is at the very top of that list as well. I won’t say Kallis – but only because I didn’t play that much against him. But he is a great player.”

DO: “Was there anyone who you felt was over-rated, or anyone that was your ‘easy meat’?”

CA: “I can’t think of anyone that was over-rated.”

And our time had just about run out. Andrew thanked Curtly for appearing on the show:

AM: “Curtly, there’s a big cheque due to you.”

CA: “Andrew, I’ve been hearing that from you for quite a few years. I’m still waiting!”

The Mason & Guests show is broadcast live on Tuesday’s from 6.15-8pm ECT (10.15-midnight GMT)  on Voice of Barbados 92.9fm and can be heard via numerous internet tune-in services.

David Oram

Ezra Stuart, experienced sports writer for Barbados’ Daily Nation, covered Curtly’s appearance on the show in Wednesday’s edition. You can read it here.

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