You don’t have to be a cricket fan to enjoy Curtly Ambrose’s Time to Talk, though that probably adds to the experience. Likely the stats page and fantasy dream team at the end of the book will mean more to you if you are. But for the rest of us there is enough straight talk and dressing room disclosures to keep us engaged.
Curtly Ambrose, for the uninitiated, is a knighted former West Indies fast bowler from Swetes, Antigua. He first played for Windies in 1986 – there for the latter part of its days of dominance; his grit providing sparks of brilliance and hope during the team’s tumble from the top.
His memoir, as told to Richard Sydenham, takes a chronological approach, beginning with his days as a youth-man who had to be coaxed in to playing cricket. “My mother pretty much forced me in to cricket and I didn’t want to disappoint her.” (24) And if the instinctive love for the game wasn’t always there, his pride (reflected in the sometimes boastful tone of his reflections) wouldn’t allow him to give any less than his best. When early in his career former Jamaican cricket great-cum-commentator Michael Holding made a comment about him playing great abroad but not so great at home (‘strong abroad and weak ah yard’), “I took it as motivation – and to be fair to Michael there was some truth to it as I had taken twelve wickets in seven games at home, which was not good enough.” (64) As this and many other examples in the book reveal, no one was harder on Curtly, and his teammates for that matter, than the man himself.
Underpinning that was the pride that contributed to Curtly’s success. In fact, as Curtly remembers it, that pride was a signature of the Windies team back in the day – “Our strength apart from having great players was our supreme confidence that we couldn’t be beaten. Of course, we lost games along the way but we prided ourselves on being the best we could be every single day. I never played with him but I think that mentality stemmed from the Clive Lloyd era. I heard he was a father figure and when Viv became captain, he continued those high standards.” (45) If you’re reading implied criticism in the quality of the teams since, you’re probably not wrong. Throughout, Curtly speaks plainly of his peers and the players they came up against – the ones he admired like India’s Sachin Tendulkar; the ones he instinctively (or irrationally) disliked like England’s Andrew Caddick; the ones he felt dropped the ball, literally or not like teammate Franklyn Rose and a handful of others whom he felt “failed to grasp” (85) their chance; the ones who posed a challenge he appreciated like Australia’s Shane Warne; the ones he felt stunted too much like England’s Alec Stewart (“making a meal of it, shaking his glove and all kinds”, 193) during the series when the Jamaica Test was abandoned because of the pitch; and the ones who showed promise. Of coming up for the first time against Zimbabwean Graeme Hick, he remarked, “I made a mental note of that young man…I thought ‘next time we meet, I will be ready for you, Mr. Hick’ (52).” The media, which to this point he avoided like they had co-co-bay as we say in Antigua; and the Windies first class flying, inconsistent decision making, insular selecting, lack of the players’ back having administration (to summarize his gripes) get their licks too. The chapter labelled the “The South Africa debacle” where the animus was so deep he and fellow bowler Courney Walsh were left behind (he believes deliberately) in England after the team threatened boycott is dealt with in detail including his disappointment with former players, then part of management, Clive Lloyd and Malcolm Marshall.
In fact, Curtly addresses several of the conflicts he’s been engaged in or witnessed. Of allegations that a bad out ruined the career of opponent Rob Bailey, Curtly scoffed, “He was looking for excuses for his failed international career and I was highly annoyed when I heard him say those things…I was close to getting physical, too, because I was really angry.” (75) But, though it came close with Steve Waugh during a 1995 clash where he had to be physically restrained (“not my proudest day”), things rarely got physical. Curtly spoke with the ball. Such was the case when another Australian, Dean Jones, asked via the umpire that he remove his “distracting” wristbands. Of the bowling spell that followed, Curtly remarked cuttingly “I should have thanked him for motivating me”. The off-field issues when he was paying county cricket also come in for a blasting – one example, when they would not offer him even half of what they were prepared to pay Warne. “Am I only half as good as Shane Warne? Forget it. Don’t call me again,” he remembers saying. He addresses in-family controversies – for instance the Brian Laras and R. Allen Stanfords in the room – head on.
There are some, but very few, personal touches off the field – only passing insight to keeping a long time long distance love alive for instance. But he did share his happy ending in the form of marriage to mother of his children Bridget and a career in mentorship and music when finally he put down ball and bat.
Time to Talk was published in 2015 by Aurum Press.
Article by Joanne C. Hillhouse, not a cricket fan but a lover of a good story. She is a content creator and can be found online at jhohadli.wordpress.com
It is special to Wadadli Pen and should not be re-published without the author’s permission.