Is it time to change England's opening attack?
Given their bowling partnership was famed for aggression and intimidation, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose are remarkably relaxed about how they are remembered.
Prior to England and Australia clashing in the second Ashes Test today, debate has been sparked as to whether the pair can lay claim to being the greatest-ever new-ball duo.
“As part of the fast bowling fraternity, and being very passionate about it, I love to see fast bowlers doing well,” says Ambrose, in an interview with Betway for Love Sport Radio.
“For me, it’s a pleasure to see bowlers doing better than former greats.”
Some - or many, for that matter - would point to Pakistan’s Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Others would doff a cap to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson of Australia. Then, of course, you have modern predecessors such as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
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In dismissing David Warner during the ill-fated Ashes opener at Edgbaston last week, Broad recorded his 450th Test wicket. Alongside Anderson’s record-breaking haul of 575, the pair now boast a whopping 1012 combined wickets in 274 games.
Anderson’s subsequent exclusion from the Second Test with a calf injury will temporarily halt that tally, but Walsh believes the deadly double act have nothing left to prove.
He says, in the interview with Betway for Love Sport,: “What Jimmy and Stuey have done for the game is tremendous. Hopefully another partnership will come along that will be even better.”
It was always this way. Both are sincere when they talk about how 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,” adds Ambrose. “I love winning, winning is a nice feeling. I don’t take losing very well.”
Fortunately, that was never much of a problem.
Between 1988 and 2000, only Australia - currently favourites with Betway to win the 2019 Ashes - 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 Test matches, sending 412 batsmen back on their way. Only two new-ball partnerships have managed more scalps.
“I think we set the bar,” Walsh claims. “History will tell you that our records were broken, but it’s good to be able to say that.”
Yet were it not for a couple of twists of fate, 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,” recalls 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 explains. “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 as a fast bowler 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 were forced to spend more time together off the field.
“Our partnership didn’t start from when I made the team,” says Ambrose. “In 1990 we became roommates, and that is when we learnt a lot more about each other and our friendship really started.”
Walsh concurs. “We’d have good nights where we’d have dinner together,” he adds. “We’d chat and discuss other things than just cricket. 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.
Of the three new-ball partnerships to take over 400 wickets, Walsh and Ambrose beat the others to the post, reaching the milestone before Akram and Younis, Anderson and Broad.
“There is no secret or magic to it,” Ambrose reveals.
“If he [Walsh] was taking wickets, then my job was simply to make sure I kept the same pressure from the same end. 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 occasionally 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.’”
While Walsh became the first bowler to take 500 wickets in Test cricket - a landmark he describes as the highlight of his career - Ambrose “freakishly” won the pair’s daily competition when he took 7-1 in one spell against Australia in January 1993.
Moreover, the duo’s relationship was put to the test in 1994. Walsh replaced Richie Richardson as the West Indies captain, potentially adding an awkward dynamic to the relationship.
Fortunately, Ambrose’s sense of fun ensured 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.”
Ultimately, Walsh and Ambrose had a common goal that would always extinguish any personal tension.
“One of the highlights of the West Indies team was that we cherished everyone’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 and Broad prepare, injury permitting, for what will surely be their final Ashes series as a pair, the greatest fast bowling partnership 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.
This interview was originally conducted by Betway for Love Sport Radio
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