When Eng­land were hit by whirl­wind of Am­brose’s rage for redemp­tion

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Garfield Robin­son re­counts how one of cricket’s great­est bowlers was in­spired to lay waste Eng­land’s hopes of suc­cess in the Caribbean

In 1994, Curtly Am­brose was at his peak. He’d been there for a while, prob­a­bly ever since his 8-45 de­mo­li­tion of Eng­land in Bar­ba­dos in April, 1990. In April, 1992, South Africa, in their first game back from ex­ile, were cruis­ing to what would have been an out­stand­ing vic­tory be­fore Am­brose and Court­ney Walsh en­gi­neered a stun­ning col­lapse early on the last day, bring­ing the West Indies back from the dead.

And the fa­mous 7-1 spell at Perth came in Fe­bru­ary, 1993. These were sim­ply some of his most out­stand­ing per­for­mances in a ca­reer re­plete with out­stand­ing per­for­mances. Eng­land ar­rived in the Caribbean with un­der­stand­able hope. The days of the hu­mil­i­at­ing se­ries white­washes had long gone and it was plain the Caribbean men

were no longer the in­vin­ci­ble force they had been a decade or so ear­lier. The pack was get­ting closer, the quicker ones even nip­ping at their heels.

Their two pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters were close-run af­fairs. Eng­land lost 1-2 on their 1989-90 visit, and would prob­a­bly have won but for rain and some time­wast­ing tac­tics in Trinidad; tac­tics for which Brian Lara ex­pressed shame dur­ing his re­cent MCC Spirit of Cricket Cow­drey lec­ture at Lord’s.

The 1991 tour ended 2-2 with Eng­land win­ning at Head­in­g­ley, on the back of Gra­ham Gooch’s su­per­hu­man 154, and at the Oval, when Phillip Tufnell’s off-spin trig­gered a stun­ning col­lapse. The West Indies won con­vinc­ingly at Trent Bridge and at Eg­bas­ton, while the Lord’s Test was be­ing fairly evenly con­tested un­til ru­ined by rain.

Yet, though the cracks in West Indies cricket’s body politic were ap­par­ent, the side were still for­mi­da­ble. Am­brose and Walsh were a deadly pair­ing and were ably sup­ported by the two Ben­jamins from An­tigua, Win­ston and Kenny. The bat­ting was hold­ing its own as well. The em­peror, Viv Richards, had gone. Richie Richard­son, how­ever, was largely thought to have in­her­ited his coun­try­man’s crown, even as ev­ery­one un­der­stood he was only hold­ing it un­til the right­ful heir came of age.

The Prince of Port of Spain was al­ready hit­ting his stride, as his re­gal 277 in Syd­ney showed. And by the time the se­ries con­cluded Lara had wrested the record Test score from his hero, Sir Garfield Sobers (who was on hand to con­grat­u­late Lara when he broke his record in An­tigua), and would soon add the record for high­est first-class score, 499, then held by Hanif Mo­ham­mad.

Des­mond Haynes was also still around, Keith Arthur­ton came into the se­ries with the good form he brought from Aus­tralia, and Jimmy Adams had showed him­self as a steady ac­cu­mu­la­tor.

Eng­land came with a pretty de­cent squad. The bat­ting was prob­a­bly its stronger di­vi­sion, fea­tur­ing Michael Ather­ton, Alec Ste­wart, Robin Smith, Gra­ham Thorpe, who had scored a cen­tury on de­but against Aus­tralia a few months prior, while there was still hope that Graeme Hick and Mark Ram­prakash would ful­fil their im­mense po­ten­tial.

If the bowl­ing seemed less threat­en­ing it had prom­ise as well. Phil Tufnell al­ready showed what he could do to the West Indies’ line-up; Devon Mal­colm had se­ri­ous pace at his com­mand; An­gus Fraser was tall, in­sis­tently ac­cu­rate, and gen­er­ated lift; and 6ft 5in Andy Cad­dick could be a hand­ful on his day.

But, what­ever hopes Eng­land had of up­set­ting the hosts were quickly dashed as the West Indies com­fort­ably won the first two Tests in Ja­maica and in Guyana, where Shiv­nar­ine Chan­der­paul de­buted on his home ground. The English bowlers were un­able to si­lence the bats of left-han­ders Lara, Arthur­ton and Adams, while Kenny Ben­jamin took six wick­ets in the first in­nings in Ja­maica, and Am­brose cap­tured eight wick­ets in the Guyana game.

The Trinidad Test, then, was piv­otal for the visi­tors. Lose and the se­ries was gone. Win­ning, there­fore, was the only op­tion if they had ex­pec­ta­tions of tak­ing the se­ries, and they be­gan well by dis­miss­ing the West Indies for 252.

When their turn came only Thorpe man­aged a half cen­tury, but most of the other bats­men got starts, nudg­ing Eng­land to 328, a use­ful lead of 76.

The home side strug­gled in their sec­ond in­nings. The sur­face wasn’t the eas­i­est but a number of play­ers got starts and ought to have gone on. The only half cen­tury came from

Though cracks in West Indies cricket’s body politic were ap­par­ent, the side were still for­mi­da­ble, Am­brose and Walsh a deadly pair­ing

Chan­der­paul, al­ready hint­ing, in only his sec­ond Test, at the ad­he­sive­ness for which he’d be­come known.

The West Indies were 227-7 when Am­brose joined Win­ston Ben­jamin on the af­ter­noon of the fourth day with his team­mates un­der­lin­ing the need to spend time at the crease. For some rea­son, Am­brose re­lated in Time To Talk, he al­ways felt the urge to hit Cad­dick’s bowl­ing.

“If I had to give a rea­son for this ir­ra­tional dis­like for Cad­dick’s bowl­ing, I would prob­a­bly say it was be­cause he had an ac­tion quite sim­i­lar to Sir Richard Hadlee’s. I al­ways ad­mired Hadlee as a great crick­eter and truly great bowler and I fig­ured, ‘man, you shouldn’t be try­ing to bowl like Richard Hadlee, you’re not in the same class’, so I wanted to show Cad­dick that he was no Hadlee.”

An almighty swipe at Cad­dick, aimed at the mid­wicket area, led to Am­brose be­ing bowled for 12. He was an­gry with him­self. Ad­di­tion­ally, and quite un­usu­ally for such a great per­former, he got an “ear­ful” from his team­mates.

Eng­land had 194 to chase. And while bat­ting was not go­ing to be easy on a sur­face from which the ball didn’t al­ways rise pre­dictably, with ju­di­cious bat­ting win­ning was highly pos­si­ble.

What hap­pened next shocked ev­ery­body, apart, per­haps, from Am­brose who felt urged to make up for his ear­lier in­dis­cre­tion. “By the time I walked on, I was ex­tremely fo­cused and knew I could pro­duce some­thing that would pre­vent us from los­ing the game.”

Only about 90 min­utes was left of the fourth day. “Richie said to us, ‘if we can take three or four wick­ets this evening we’re in busi­ness’.”

Well, they took eight. Charg­ing in as if pos­sessed, Am­brose re­moved six, sud­denly end­ing what was a highly com­pet­i­tive con­test. He blamed him­self for the ter­ri­ble shot he played and Eng­land reaped the rage it trig­gered.

Ather­ton was the first ca­su­alty, pal­pa­bly lbw to a ball that came back wickedly from off. Ram­prakash, in a stun­ningly inept bit of run­ning was run out by a throw from the long leg boundary from Walsh of all per­sons, a man whose shoul­der trou­ble forced him to throw un­der­arm.

Wick­et­keeper Ju­nior Mur­ray col­lected the ball two yards from the stumps and still had more than enough time to ef­fect the dis­missal.

Robin Smith’s im­mac­u­late for­ward de­fen­sive shot was breached and his stumps dis­turbed. Hick played slightly away from his body and was caught be­hind. Ste­wart seemed slightly re­luc­tant to push for­ward. By the time he got there his off-stump was gone.

Walsh, work­ing up some steam of his own at the other end, found the edge of Ian Sal­is­bury’s dan­gling bat. He was caught at first slip by Lara.

Hit painfully on his hand one ball, Jack Rus­sell hes­i­tated to get prop­erly be­hind the next, and the edge was caught by Phil Sim­mons at sec­ond slip, who was on the field for Des­mond Haynes. And af­ter tak­ing a bat­ter­ing, mainly from Walsh, Thorpe had his off-stump flat­tened by one from Am­brose that kept slightly low. It was sched­uled to be the penul­ti­mate ball of the day.

And so Thorpe, wide-eyed, shell­shocked, walked from the field with his side in sham­bles at 40-8 and Am­brose six for next to noth­ing. “He wouldn’t have played any­thing as tor­rid as the last hour and a half,” said Ge­of­frey Boy­cott on com­men­tary. “I’ve seen a lot of cricket in my time and I’ve been ex­cited by the last hour and a half.”

On the fi­nal morn­ing Am­brose, con­tent with the havoc he had wreaked, al­lowed Walsh to clean up. Eng­land added just six more runs to be bowled out for 46, los­ing a match they likely thought they would have won by 147 runs. They prob­a­bly would have won, too, had they not had to con­tend with the An­tiguan in such a foul mood.

Amaz­ingly, and in a blow to those who be­lieve there is some­thing called mo­men­tum in cricket, Eng­land won the next Test at the then West Indies fortress, Kens­ing­ton Oval, Bar­ba­dos. Ste­wart, who hinted at good form early on the tour, scored cen­turies in both in­nings. Asked at the end of the game if he re­alised what he had ac­com­plished. “Yes,” he an­swered, “we fi­nally won a Test match.”

The col­lapse be­gins: Curtly Am­brose traps Eng­land’s Mike Ather­ton lbw in Eng­land’s sec­ond knock in Trinidad

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Carnage: The Trinidad score­board records Eng­land’s demise for 46

In on the act: Court­ney Walsh sends Ian Sal­is­bury on his way

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