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Caribbean Beat Magazine

Curtly Ambrose on the bass

This season, the West Indies are without one of their star players, the six-foot-seven Antiguan fast bowler Curtly Ambrose, who has retired from the game. To do what? Vaneisa Baksh finds out

  • Putting his height to good use. Photograph courtesy Curtly Ambrose
  • Photograph by Laurence Griffith/ Allsport
  • Curtly Ambrose. Photograph by Michael Steele/ Allsport

Shaggy on the bass. It’s the only way I can imagine Curtly Ambrose as a singer. And that’s what the Caribbean may soon have to look forward to now that he has retired from West Indies cricket.

One of the greatest fast bowlers the region has ever produced, Curtly is eager to settle down and do some of the things he’s always wanted to do but couldn’t because of the hectic schedule he’s maintained since he made his debut with the West Indies team in 1987/88.

For some years now he has been hanging about with a small band in Antigua as a bassman. Now he has the time, he’s going to invest it in developing his musical side. He intends to learn to read music so he can improve his playing. “I can play by ear, but that’s all,” he says. “It’s a start.”

He also does a little singing. “I’m no Sparrow or David Rudder, but I can hold my own. I hang out with the guys a lot. The bassman in the band teaches me a lot. I play with them sometimes, every once in a while when they have their shows, me and Richie Richardson [the former WI cricket captain, who plays the guitar], we play a couple tunes with them and have a good time. People enjoy that too, because of who we are.”

Curtly likes all kinds of music, but reggae and calypso are his favourites. Jazz is a bit too abstract for him, though he likes watching the bassmen to see if he can pick up any tips. He always liked the bass. “You can’t have music without bass,” he says. “The bass stands out. Music without bass to me is not music. The bass is special.”

And if Curtly on the bass doesn’t elbow Shaggy aside, he might try his hand as a fisherman. He loves to while away the daylight hours fishing for snapper, though he’s not keen on being at sea at night — “I like to see what’s going on around me.”

But for the moment, Curtly plans to spend more time with his fiancée Bridgette Benjamin, the mother of his two daughters, Tanya, 10, and Chloe, 3. His mother, Hillie, whom he describes as the real cricket fanatic in the family, is also very close to him. She was the one who steered her fourth child into cricket, when basketball beckoned. (Anyone watching Curtly’s six-foot-seven frame would think he was born for basketball, but he only sprung up past six feet after he turned 17.) His elder brother, Aldensa, was a wicket keeper/batsman, and after he migrated to the USA his mother pinned her cricket dreams on Curtly. He went from being irritated by the game to irritating every batsman who faced him. When he retired, he had the third best bowling average for the West Indies, 20.99. His 8 for 45 against England in Barbados in 1990 is one highlight of his career; others include his 6 for 34 against South Africa in 1992, 6 for 24 at Queen’s Park against England in 1994, and 7 for 1 in Perth, Australia.

“But having said that, there are other times when I took less wickets, maybe two or three, to change a whole game, and cause us to win,” Curtly points out. “People tend to overlook those, because it’s a few wickets and not a whole handful. Against India in Barbados, in 1997, we won the series 1-0. Franklyn Rose came on and bowled a very good spell early in the morning and got a couple wickets, and then I came on after and got two crucial wickets (Azharuddin and Ganguly) that continued the slide that Rose had started. Those two wickets were important because we were defending a small total, so they stick out in my mind. And against Zimbabwe, when Rose again started the slide and I came back after and finished it. We were only defending 99.”

Make no mistake, Curtly’s a fighter. “It’s hard for me to take a handful of wickets and we still end up losing. It doesn’t make any sense. To me, as a stat, yes, Ambrose got five wickets, he bowled well, that’s a stat. But personally, for me, it doesn’t mean anything; I took five wickets and we lost the game. Maybe if I had taken seven we would have won. I prefer to take two or three wickets and win a game than to take seven and we lose. That’s how I look at it. Because I don’t play for the glory of myself, this is West Indies cricket. Winning to me is of utmost importance.”

It’s one of the things he might be able to drill into some of the youngsters as he tries his hand at yet another post-retirement job — cricket coach. So far, he’s completed one of the courses held by the West Indies Cricket Board, and he hopes to be able to impart some of his skills and training to the youth throughout the region. For the West Indies, it would be a great boost to have an old warrior like Ambrose teaching the youngsters some bowling techniques and, even more critically, how to summon up the fighting spirit.