For a generation of cricket fans growing up in the 1990s, hearing the heroics of the three Ws or the horror tales of West Indies' famous pace battery formed an essential undercurrent of any discussion that had anything to do with cricket. Charlie Griffith's famous bouncer to Nari Contractor that ended his international career and almost ended his life, Gavaskar's guts in standing up to and excelling against the Caribbean's fearsome pace ensemble, the aura of Clive Lloyd, the stylish slayer that Gordon Greenidge was and the swagger of King Viv all formed a mystical collage of sacred excellence. Curtly Ambrose, if he had, by some eccentric mélange of providence and planning, started playing cricket 10 years earlier than 1988, would have found himself in that league of extraordinary gentlemen. Not that Ambrose would have minded much though, for cricket, as he honestly explains in his autobiography, Time to Talk, was never his first love.
Cricket forms the bedrock of his account but the twin themes of pride and honour make a fascinating leitmotif. Pride and honour for his native Swetes goaded Ambrose into making the cricket ball a weapon of mass destruction; it made him present an existential threat to Steve Waugh (Ambrose has dedicated an entire chapter to that famous duel); it made him reconsider his retirement more than once, and it made him the cricketer - and person - he was and is.
In a riveting chapter that makes a brave attempt to recreate the memorable battle of Trinidad, Ambrose reveals the trigger for his confrontation with Waugh, and admits he intended to physically harm the man who would go on to lead one of the greatest sides to have played Test cricket. The detailed breakdown of the build-up, the gradual rise of the wrath, to which Waugh's typical doughtiness contributed, culminating in an outburst that needed his skipper Richie Richardson's intervention, make for a thrilling read.
Curtly Ambrose: Time to Talk Curtly Ambrose, Richard Sydenham Pan Macmillan (Rs 599; PP288)
The Perth spell of 1993, where he claimed seven wickets and conceded a solitary run, is revisited in glorious detail too, and Allan Border's decision to bat first on a fast WACA track still confounds Ambrose. He also quashes the notion of 'Curtly talks to no man' that gained traction during his playing days, thanks largely to his reluctance to engage with the press.
There are references to the run-ins he had with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) but not much name-calling. There's an effort to ensure it's not a proverbial 'tell-all', but the present day troubles of WICB may well have its roots in the time Ambrose churned over after over for the West Indies. For a man who has claimed 405 Test wickets, 'Ambi' has a few regrets - a notable one being not being able to play enough cricket in India.
He regrets not being able to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar enough - the two first squared off in Tests only in 1997, nine years after Ambrose had made his international debut. But he definitely has enough cricketing nous to compare the Master Blaster with the Caribbean genius of Brian Lara. Ambrose finds Lara more open to risk-taking but marvels at Tendulkar's consistency. Lara, however, loses the middle order slot to Tendulkar in his dream team.
There's ample peep in his post-cricket life too, where music has occupied the space vacated by sport. A Bob Marley fan, Ambrose reveals his love for bass. His band, titled Spirited, plays gigs for holidaymakers, tourists and at weddings. Curtly Ambrose's integrity has remained intact throughout his 51 years, which included an impoverished but happy childhood. The themes of pride, honour and loyalty give substantial account of his grounded way of life, as does his ongoing association with fellow pace merchant Courtney Walsh (whom he calls his brother) and Richie Richardson with whom he operates his band. An insightful cross between Sachin Tendulkar's and Kevin Pietersen's bestsellers, Time to Talk is time well spent.