9 runs and in the end that was probably
Knees pumping, he produced some of the greatest spells of fast bowling seen
in Test cricket in modern times and could run through a side almost on his own
as he homed in on a full length on off stump, fist pumping in celebration at every
wicket. I was thankfully watching from the stands when he ripped through
England after tea on the final day in Bridgetown in 1990 after it had looked as
though Lamb, Robin Smith and Jack Russell, in his finest rearguard mode,
would hold out for a draw. I happened to be in Barbados on a pre-season tour
with Hampshire and there was some discussion about me joining the
reinforcements after injuries had taken their toll but in the end it was decided –
rightly and probably thankfully! – that I was short of the match practice.
Ambrose’s figures that day were a highly impressive eight for 45, but those
paled beside his seven for 25 – including a spell of seven for one in 32 balls –
three years later when he blew away Australia at the WACA. He was also the
destroyer at Trinidad in 1994 when Michael Atherton’s England side were
scuttled for 46, an amazing performance given that England had had victory in
their sights not long before.
Given the bounce he could generate, it was natural Ambrose should do well
in Australia, as he did. He took 26 wickets in the series there in 1988–89 and 33
when West Indies next visited in 1992–93. But he was also skilful enough to
make the most of English conditions, in which he wobbled the ball around just
enough to be dangerous. He was very new to Test cricket when he came to
England in 1988, which was the only series in which I came up against him, and
he took 22 wickets at just 20.22. As with Garner, England found him very
difficult to keep out, let alone score off. In the seven series he played against
England his worst figures by a distance were the 21 wickets he took in the 1995
series in England at a cost of 24.09. His average was either around the 20 mark
or in the teens. Overall, he took 164 wickets against England at 18.79 each and
128 against Australia at 21.23.
These were the big series in which he routinely did well but he also snatched
a win in a Test match against South Africa at Bridgetown in 1992 – South
Africa’s first after the anti-apartheid boycott was lifted – rather as he did in the
England game in Trinidad, when again it looked as though West Indies would
lose until Ambrose, in this instance with Walsh’s help, made a dramatic late
intervention. South Africa were at one stage 123 for two chasing 201, but lost
their last eight for 25. No game was ever lost with Ambrose in your side.
The only reservation that could be put against his record is that he played
only six Tests in Asia – and none in India – so it is hard to judge quite how
effective he really was on those types of wicket.