As a player, he appeared mean on the field. He made the ball sing as it whizzed past the ears of batsmen who ducked and weaved in trepidation.
Curtly Ambrose, the last of the giant West Indian fast bowlers, was quite a force with another beanpole, Courtney Walsh. He rarely uttered an angry word on the pitch; off it his piercing glare was enough to keep most of the media at a safe distance. “Curtly speak to no maan!” used to be his standard line.
On Friday night, however, he was at his genial best at a popular casino in St. John as he, along with former West Indies skipper and fellow Antiguan Richie Richardson, dished out a live performance with their band “Spirited”.
Ambrose played base guitar and the group sang reggae, calypso and 'what have you', as people danced and swayed to the fast, rhythmic music with an ease reserved for the Caribbean. Richardson, who played rhythm, mostly stuck to his corner, as the group belted out one lively number after another well past midnight.
“I bought my first guitar in 1989, and Curtly joined me after his retirement,” said Richardson as he tuned his guitar. Ambrose was the first to arrive, to make sure everything was in order as his former team mate, now the West Indies team manager, rushed in after the team meeting.
“West Indies will beat the Indians,” Ambrose declared with a big smile. But the pain was evident when the fierce competitor turned entertainer was asked about the state of the Caribbean game. Ambrose, whose mother used to ring a small bell in their house whenever he took a wicket, was sad that the music had gone out of the team. “Everybody knew the game was not going to be the same but no one thought it would go down so low. It is very disappointing,” he said.
Soon, the 47-year-old put on a black hat and wore a loose tie, tapping his feet rhythmically as he sang, drawing more and more people from the jackpot machines on to the dance floor. “It is all about the vibes you get from the audience. If they are dancing, you also get into the mood,” said Ambrose.
Ambrose took 405 wickets in 98 Tests before he retired in 2000. With cricket showing no signs of pulling itself from the trenches any time soon, he seems to have realised music is a far better way to make people happy. “We plan to travel, you never know we could one day be playing in India,” said Ambrose.