Two West Indies legends reveal the secrets to success for a new-ball duo and pay tribute to England’s James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Given their bowling partnership was famed for aggression and intimidation, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose are remarkably relaxed about how they are remembered.
“As part of the fast bowling fraternity, I love to see fast bowlers doing well,” Ambrose told Betway, when asked how he feels about his modern-day successors. “For me, it’s a pleasure to see bowlers doing better than former greats.”
“What Jimmy [Anderson] and Stuey [Broad] have done for the game, for example, is tremendous,” adds Walsh. “Hopefully another partnership will come along that will be even better.”
Both the former West Indian quicks insist they were never invested in their own egos or legacies.
“If I take 10 wickets in a Test match and we lose, it’s a waste of time,” says Ambrose. “I love winning – winning is a nice feeling. I don’t take losing very well.”
Fortunately, that was never too much of a problem. Between 1988 and 2000 – the period spanning Ambrose’s international career – only Australia won more Test matches than the West Indies. Their win-loss ratio was also second-best until the end of 1995, when the standard of the team around them began to decline.
Walsh and Ambrose played a combined 230 Test matches, with their individual wicket-taking tallies – 519 for Walsh and 405 for Ambrose – adding up to 924 overall.
They opened the bowling together in 52 Tests, dismissing 412 batsmen in those matches. Only two new-ball partnerships – Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis of Pakistan and England’s Anderson and Broad – have managed more scalps.
“I think we set the bar,” says Walsh. “History will tell you that our records were broken, but it’s good to be able to say that.”
Were it not for a couple of twists of fate, though, the pair might never have even met.
“From a young age I used to bowl with much older guys, but cricket wasn’t my love,” says Ambrose. “My first love has always been basketball, followed by football. Cricket was third in line.
“Fortunately, my mother – who is a cricket fanatic – wanted a cricketer in the family. She was the driving force and deserves all the credit for getting me into cricket.”
Walsh also nearly headed down a different path.
“Originally when I started I was a spinner,” he says. “I did everything to spin the ball. But there was this concrete strip at Melbourne Cricket Club in Jamaica, where Michael Holding used to play, and I used to run in and bowl fast on that. That’s where it all started.”
Walsh eventually broke into the West Indies team in 1984, and was united with Ambrose four years later. Initially the pair had little to do with each other. But the on-field chemistry began to blossom once they spent more time together off the field.
“Our partnership didn’t start from when I made the team,” Ambrose says. “In 1990 we became roommates, and that is when we learnt a lot more about each other and our friendship really started.”
“We’d have good nights where we’d have dinner together, we’d chat, we’d discuss other things than just cricket,” adds Walsh. “It helped us to understand each other, and how we each thought about things.”
So followed a partnership that would set the benchmark for all to follow.
“If he [Walsh] was taking wickets, then my job was simply to make sure I kept the same pressure from the other end,” says Ambrose. “If it was my day, he’d do the same.”
“We looked after each other,” says Walsh. “I would look to him from the boundary and tell him what I had seen or what I had noticed. And he would do the same for me. The best partnerships complement each other, but don’t compete against each other.”
The competitive juices must have been flowing, though?
“Yeah, we would always have a smile, seeing who was going to get the most wickets that day,” says Walsh. “But it was a jovial thing. Curtly was the sort of guy who said, ‘Let’s see who can do things first’.”
Walsh describes the moment when he became the first bowler to take 500 wickets in Test cricket as the highlight of his career and Ambrose too had many special days, not least when he took 7-1 in one spell against Australia in January 1993.
The pair’s relationship was put to the test in 1994 when Walsh replaced Richie Richardson as the West Indies captain, potentially adding an awkward dynamic to their friendship. Fortunately, Ambrose’s sense of fun ensured that the transition was painless.
“When Courtney became captain, I still had choice of ends,” he says. “So of course I always said to him, ‘I’m going to choose the end with the breeze at my back, and you’ve got to bowl into the wind’. He’s a joker, so he said, ‘Man, I’m the captain and you’re still ordering me around’. It never turned into a problem.”
“One of the highlights of the West Indies team was that we cherished everybody’s company,” says Walsh. “It was a tremendous effort all-round – every time you looked at that particular team you’d think, ‘Wow’. What we did was what the team required first and foremost.”
As Anderson – fitness permitting – and Broad compete in what could be their final Ashes series as a pair, the greatest fast bowling duo of all time will be heavily debated.
Walsh and Ambrose will be right in the mix, but they won’t really care about the conclusion.