The West Indies team was a dominating force in the world of cricket for a long span of time. In the 1950s, Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes were at the peak of their game and dictated terms with the bat wherever they played. Then came the era of Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and the lethal Wesley Hall, followed by the invincible squad led by the ‘super cat’ Clive Lloyd, which had the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Vivian Richards in their batting line up, but the main highlight of the playing XI was the four fast bowling stalwarts. Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall, probably the best fast bowling attack the world has ever seen. It will take some doing to match such a glorious collection of speedsters in the near future.
The side from the Caribbean looked unbeatable during the late 70s and the 80s, having won two consecutive World Cups in 1975 and 1979. But the 1990s saw a plunge and downfall of this most celebrated cricket empire, largely after the exit of Clive Lloyd and Co.
Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were a handful of finds from the island nations. The only phenomenal thing occurred was the bowling duo of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. Though it may be a bit harsh to compare them with the fab four, they put together some special performances and won numerous matches for the West Indies.
Curtly Ambrose played 98 Tests, while Walsh featured in 121 matches out of which they played 95 games together. Out of those 95 Tests, West Indies won 42 matches, mainly due to the brilliance of these two pacers, over a span of 12 years from 1988 to 2000. The contribution these two have made to the success of their team is comparable to no other fast bowling pair. Walsh and Ambrose took 421 wickets in partnership, and are still considered the one of greatest opening bowling pairs in the history of Cricket.
"I am going to miss my great partner and friend. We have gone through a great lot together, good and bad, ups and downs. He was so eager and happy for me to join him in the "400 club". Man, I am going to miss him terribly,” said Curtly Ambrose about his long-time bowling partner when he was about to bid adieu to the game of cricket following the tour of England in 2000.
Overall, Courtney Walsh played 132 Test matches, picking up 519 wickets at an average of 24.44. He was the leading wicket taker in Test cricket for quite some time before leg spin sensation Shane Warne surpassed him in the year 2004. The Jamaican played his last Test in his hometown, Kingston, against South Africa in 2001. Walsh had a very similar bowling action to his fellow Jamaican Michael Holding, popularly known as the “Whispering Death”, which enabled him to bowl economical spells throughout his career.
Curtly Ambrose featured in two short of a hundred Test matches, having claimed 405 wickets at an average of 20.99. One of his most memorable spells was against Australia at the WACA, in Perth, where he took 7 wickets conceding just 1 run and singlehandedly won the match for his team. The fast bowler from Antigua was knighted in the year 2014 for his services towards cricket. Ambrose was 6 feet 7 inches tall and delivered from a height of 10 feet with a giant leap coupled with enormous speed. He was a nightmare for any batsman during his heyday.
Courtney Walsh always felt that both of them were very different cricketers, but always complemented each other pretty well. They did not give away easy runs and always hunted as a pair. On asked to share some memories about the partnership, speaking to Sportstar, Walsh said, “We were different bowlers. We complemented – not competed against – each other. That was the hallmark of our careers. We communicated with each other on what we wanted to do, on how to approach certain batsmen. I was proud to be a part of that partnership. It made life easier for me.”
The last match Curtly Ambrose played was at the Oval, during West Indies’ tour to England in 2000. The Three Lions were on the verge of the first Test series win over the West Indies since 1969. Michael Atherton played brilliantly in both the innings and set the visitors a target of 374 in the fourth innings of the penultimate Test match. England was leading the series 2-1, needing only a draw to clinch the series, but was inches away from a win. Amidst all such calculations, the English players made a very warm gesture by giving a guard of honour to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh when they came out to bat in front of 15000 people present at the iconic Oval, in London.
It was a very touching moment when “Amby” (Ambrose) and “Cuddy” (Courtney) left the Kennington Oval arm in arm, and Ambrose removed his white armbands for the final time on his way to the pavilion, indicating it was time for him to spend the rest of his life outside the cricket field. Thus ended a bowling partnership that took the art of fast bowling to new heights. Walsh retired from the International arena in 2001, a few months following Ambrose’s last match.
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