South African fast-bowling legend Allan Donald rates Curtley Ambrose as among the most intimidating bowlers to have ever played Test cricket.
Donald, currently doing a series on some of the greats of the game, said Ambrose had a mean streak and was not one with which to trifle.
“I first saw Curtly Ambrose during a triangular series in Australia –West Indies, Australia, New Zealand in Australia. Dean Jones asked him to take his sweat band off.
I’ll never forget that. Ambrose stopped in the middle of the wicket. He couldn’t believe that Dean Jones actually asked him to take his sweat band off. (Because it was white and you’re not supposed to have a white sweat band with a white ball.)
“It didn’t take him long to sort Dean Jones out, but the capability of doing that, to actually go out there and execute that and hit him square on the head and get him out and then telling him where to go and stick the sweat band was brilliant … brilliant footage.
“For me, Curtly Ambrose had a streak. He had a very mean streak, as I found out when he laid me out on the pitch in 1998 in a series in South Africa. He never gave anything away. He never said a word but the face told many stories and you know the eyes.
“He just had to flick back his head and you knew what was about to come. He probably had one of the best bouncers in the game, because it wasn’t as short as most people’s, because he was such a tall man. He could actually pitch it a little bit further up, which meant that it was always hitting the target or just missing you. It was a steep bouncer,” Donald said.
The man once referred to as White Lightning recalled one confrontation that has remained with him.
“I saw a spell against Steve Waugh where the two guys almost came to blows, where Waugh didn’t back down. That spell was on a bit of a dodgy Trinidad wicket — it was up and down and Waugh got absolutely punished everywhere: in the ribs, in the arms, but he stood his ground,” Donald said.
Donald noted that Ambrose’s bowling mechanics stood out above everything else.
“He had the most beautiful wrist. You know, when we are trying to tweak something out of a bowler, we say to use your wrist properly. It just came natural to him. It wasn’t express pace but he was quick. He was quick enough. I’m talking 145 … that’s quick enough.
“What made him difficult to play was his enormous bounce, and he would never — I could swear that in the time that I’ve seen him or faced him — bowl you a half-volley.”
“He hardly tried to pitch the ball up. He was just relentless in his areas, just locked you away from one end and made you work so hard. The batsmen who were successful against him left him on bounce, but when you left him on bounce, he was always on the stump. He was never far away,” Donald enthused.
He recalled a match which South Africa had to win but succumbed to Ambrose and another West Indian great.
“The one spell I forgot to mention was our first Test match, against West Indies in 1992, where Walsh and Ambrose cleaned us up, and it was fascinating to see that when it really mattered Ambrose was always there, stuck his hand up and completely demolished batting line-ups.
“When you speak to young guys or in team meetings about wanting to be in that position to make a difference, Ambrose was one of those. He was absolutely magnificent.
“Yes, they had a Walsh on the other end, and maybe a Marshall, but it was unbelievable to see that guy take that responsibility and be that intimidating when he needed to be, and execute also in a time of crisis. He was right up there in my estimation,” Donald said.
Ambrose, 49, ended a glittering 12-year Test career in 2000,having taken 405 wickets at an average of 20.99.