Whatever state West Indies cricket is in, there are some players from the islands who will never lose their aura. Curtly Ambrose is one of them, particularly for South Africans.
The four wickets Ambrose took on the final day of South Africa’s comeback Test in 1992, which took his innings tally to six and his match haul to eight, derailed a South African chase which seemed certain to reach the station. Ambrose’s achievement that day was down to the same thing he said has contributed to the South African pace pack’s successes: “Consistency”.
He admitted that ingredient alone will be required by the West Indian batsmen to bring out their “A game” if they hope to compete against South Africa but cautioned against writing the visitors off completely. “I feel very confident with where we are at the moment and I believe that we are going to do well, contrary to what others may believe,” Ambrose, who is West Indies bowling consultant said. “We all know South Africa is the No. 1 team in the world but we are prepared.”
South Africa have already identified the West Indian bowlers as a bigger threat than their batsmen and the knowledge they are being mentored by Ambrose may only underline that. But Ambrose did not want to put too much emphasis on his coaching, describing it as much tougher than actually stepping on the field on match day. “It’s a lot different coaching than bowling,” he said. “It can be frustrating as a coach because as a bowler I have always believed I can work magic with the ball in my hand. As a coach you can take to the guys and if they are not doing what you ask, it can become frustrating. It was easier being a bowler than a coach.”
But he current crop of West Indian quicks have not given Ambrose any “trouble” and he praised them for “working hard and showing improvement”. He did not want to compare them to the great packs of the past or to name individuals who he thought would make the biggest impact, instead preferring to preach the collective philosophy. “It’s a different era and we have to work with what we have. I don’t want to single out any one. Its all about the team,” he said. “No one bowler can win a game for you, it takes a team. As long we play together as a team, we will do well here.”
His advice to them on South African wickets, which are among the spiciest they would have played on is “not to get too carried away” by the assistance. “The most important thing is to maintain your focus,” he said. “Even though the pitch is bouncy, you have to put the ball in the right areas consistently. You won’t see us doing anything out of the ordinary.”
That may also mean West Indies will not opt for an all-pace attack even though that formula was how they won their only Test in South Africa in 2007. “It doesn’t mean because we won with four fast bowlers last time that we are going to win again,” Ambrose said “I’m a bit of a realist. It depends on the track you are going to play on and the conditions. That will determine your bowling line-up.”
SuperSport Park’s healthy green covering was all but completely stripped off on Monday, two days before the match. Some regrowth may still be left on it for the Test match, which is why Ambrose said he “tries not to look at the wicket prior to the game. I wait for the morning of the game and make assessment then.”
One thing he could confirm was that the West Indian bowlers will approach this series in the same way Ambrose approached bowling throughout his career. “We’re not going to bowl any lengths for them to drive,” he said. And as he did, some of the old snarl snuck back out and the South African batsmen may have had reason to shudder, even if only for a moment.