Leaving on a high

Across the Board
Stabroek News
June 11, 2000

IT WAS a moment filled with emotion - both for the hero waving farewell to his most ardent fans and for the fans too, realising they would never witness his heroics on that special battlefield again.

Throughout the decades of West Indies cricket, we have seen so many of these touching goodbyes as the most famous of our cricketing sons come to the close of their international careers. Sunday May 28, this year, at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) was that day for Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose.

As he walked from his home ground at the end of Pakistan's second innings, the beanpole bowler, who has given West Indies cricket supporters so many reasons to cheer and boast over the past 12 years, stretched wide his long arms and bade farewell to his fellow Antiguans and thousands of other West Indians watching on television. This was his last appearance in a home series and how fitting that it should conclude where it all began for the 36-year-old from Swetes Village.

The following day, at the final Press conference of the Cable and Wireless 2000 Series, Ambrose made the definitive statement: "I have already notified the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that after the England series I am going to call it a day. It is time for me to pack it in."

There it was - no rumour, no speculation, no "he said, she said". It was the official word from the man himself, putting the seal on what the cricketing fraternity had suspected: he was leaving the game - and while still among the giants of fast bowling. What a bitter-sweet occasion this was as will be The Oval in London, England, come August-September when Ambrose is expected to take part in his final Test.

Everyone loves to see a hero go out on top, amid a hail of accolades, but the reality that he is indeed going often sparks a tinge of sadness. Memory after memory comes flooding back and how many Ambrose memories there are for us to savour as he prepares for his final onslaught against England; a team against which he has reaped countless successes. Who can forget his annihilation of the Brits at Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad in 1994 or his last-day demolition at Kensington Oval, Barbados, in 1990?

Certainly there is much to inspire the second-highest West Indies Test wicket-taker and the fifth most-successful bowler in all Test cricket as he dons his whites and laces his boots this summer.

First, he is 12 wickets (388 wickets in 93 matches) away from joining an elite club of bowlers who have 400 Test wickets. Only three men, including Ambrose's great friend, bowling partner and world record-holder, Courtney Walsh (449 wickets), have reached that milestone. Pakistan's Wasim Akram is very close on 398 wickets.

Second, Ambrose has just finished another successful series, defying detractors who have repeatedly called for him and Walsh to step aside for the young brigade, featuring Reon King, Franklyn Rose and Nixon McLean. In the combined five Tests versus Zimbabwe and Pakistan, this stalwart snagged 19 victims at an average of 16.78. If any doubts remain about his ability to fire out batsmen, look at the number of times Pakistan found themselves struggling with four or five wickets down after Ambrose and Walsh finished their opening spells.

Finally, it will be the swan song of this faithful and stellar servant of West Indies cricket and what better way to leave the cricket field - an arena he has loved and thrilled simultaneously - but triumphantly and with dignity.

Ambrose said it best as he broke the news of his imminent retirement: "I set myself high standards and if I can't measure up to that standard I'd rather not play. Before that happens, I prefer to leave on a high."

We in West Indies cricket all wish and expect you to Ambie. Good luck!

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