As West Indies step up preparations for the Tri-Nation One-Day International series with Australia and South Africa in the Caribbean next month, the removal of Sir Curtly Ambrose as bowling consultant has been met with mixed reaction.
Ambrose has been replaced by Roddy Estwick, a former Barbados and West Indies ‘B’ team fast bowler, who was the Barbados Pride bowling coach last season and has also coached Barbados and West Indies Under-19 teams.
Based on some reports throughout the region, bias and sentiment have been shown along with a few unfortunate comparisons.
Now Ambrose has said the decision to remove him came as “a bit of a shock” while pointing out that head coach Phil Simmons wanted someone who is “more technical” to coach the fast bowlers.
“I only learnt about it from head coach Phil Simmons and when he told me I said to him that I am very disappointed, because I never expected it, and I never saw it coming because he never gave me any indication he was going to let me go.
“So, it came as a bit of a shock basically, but I haven’t decided which direction I am going to take just yet. I’ll just pause and give it a little time to think about it and decide where I want to go after.”
On the question of someone who is “more technical to work with the fast bowlers”, Ambrose was quoted as saying: “So, I said to him well, if you knew I was doing a poor job, then you should have told me. He said no, I did a fantastic job, because I brought a high level of discipline to the team, and I have motivated the guys quite a bit… but he wants somebody more technical, hence, he is going for Roderick Estwick.”
For the three years he was in the job as West Indies bowling consultant, Ambrose always looked pumped up when the television cameras zoomed in on the way he talked with the players.
Yet, there were whispers that some of the bowlers felt more input was needed on the finer points of their game.
With the West Indies bowling coming in for a hammering in the three-Test series in Australia in 2015-16, Frankly Stephenson, the former Barbados fast bowling all-rounder, who also played professionally in England and other countries, described Ambrose as “the worst coach I have ever seen” and claimed he was “incapable of inspiring West Indies bowlers”.
In January, I invited Stephenson as a guest on the weekly cricket radio programme, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, while having a link-up with Michael Muirhead, the Chief Executive Officer of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
Asked if he felt that Ambrose should be fired based on the returns of the West Indies bowlers on the tour to Australia, Muirhead replied: “Well, we have not had the benefit of a debriefing yet but I am sure that we will take notice and act accordingly.”
Lest we forget, in its May 13 release on the appointment of Estwick, the WICB simply said he was replacing Ambrose.
Back in January, Stephenson shared his views on the way Ambrose operated during practice sessions with the West Indies team at the Franklyn Stephenson Academy in Bennetts, Thomas.
“I am talking cricket and for the development that I was seeing young people need, when I saw the coach (Ambrose) stand in the nets for four days (at a West Indies camp) and not speak to a single bowler. You cannot…
“I mean, the coach did bring in another guy to actually help with the bowling and Mr. Ambrose proceeded to stand… he called a couple of no-balls and then he approached myself and the other guy at one stage because we had a chat with one of the bowlers, and he came down and he said the batsmen are waiting too long for the ball to come.
“Now that in my estimation is not cricket training. I mean you’ve got to be on to these young people to even discuss what you are trying to do. You have got so much action going on when you see a camera and then when it comes to working, I didn’t see any at all and I have got to be fair to the guys who came to practise their game and cricket per se.
“I have got nothing at all personally against anybody but I am in the players’ corner totally. The guys came there as young men and they wanted to work on their game. They were trying and I did not see input that would help them in any way at all,” Stephenson said.
I then asked Stephenson if he was suggesting that Ambrose be removed as bowling consultant.
Stephenson responded: “If Sir Curtly is a consultant, you can call him on the telephone and say I’ve got a little challenge here, what do you think or I am going to send somebody to you or something.
“But what I saw in the nets here, that doesn’t need to travel with the team and sit down because in the dressing room those players are on to a hiding to nothing out there because everybody is going to look at them and say but they have Curtly Ambrose sitting in a corner there. How come they can’t bowl?
“And every time the cameras see Curtly, it looks as though he is really, really saying a lot so how come these dumb heads then can’t understand what he is saying?
“Well, I didn’t see it so I am in the players’ corner that they do need help and I want to be practical that we are physically doing something. We’ve got some youngsters out there, brilliant youngsters and I don’t want them to fall in the same category here.
“I was hoping that by now this young team would have been in the nets like I’ve got down there on a regular basis. If you want to bring your coach, bring him. But don’t wait for people who are not looking after your best interest to tell you that oh we are going to put a camp up for you because it hasn’t been happening.”
In reviewing what Stephenson said and against the background of Simmons wanting someone “more technical”, there has to be an understanding of what is required.
Ambrose was a great fast bowler but he was probably unable to impart the finer points of bowling as a consultant. And there have been other examples of outstanding cricketers who have fallen short as coaches.
When Estwick was appointed as bowling consultant for Barbados Pride last season in place of assistant coach Dexter Toppin, the persons responsible for the initiative expressed similar views to Simmons. In fact, it was even said to be a “no-brainer”.
In addition, those much closer to observing the work Estwick has put in at the West Indies High Performance Centre in Barbados have often spoken in glowing terms.
He is well aware that the results of the West Indies bowlers will be closely monitored. And he knows what success is like.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the CaribbeanBroadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com