Walsh and Ambrose reveal the secret of unplayable bowling partnerships

Vikram Bhattacharya

Two of the greatest of all time

The ongoing Ashes series is the last for the successful English pace duo of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. The duo has been responsible for over 1000 wickets in Test Cricket, beating the record of another legendary bowling duo - West Indies legends Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The Caribbean kings revealed to Adam Drury from Cricket Betting site Betway, just what it takes for new ball bowling pairs to achieve such phenomenal numbers.

When anyone speaks about furious fast bowlers of the past, the West Indian pace battery from the days of yore comes to the forefront of the discussion. Among them, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose are two of the most revered pace-bowling figures of all time.

So it is not surprising to see Ambrose being happy at witnessing pacers doing well right now.

“As part of the fast bowling fraternity, and very passionate about it, I love to see fast bowlers doing well,” says Ambrose. “For me, it’s a pleasure to see bowlers doing better than former greats.”

Meanwhile, Walsh is particularly pleased with how well both Stuart Broad and James Anderson have done in Tests as the iconic pair have over 1000 victims in the most gruelling format of the game.

 “What Jimmy [Anderson] and Stuey [Broad] have done for the game, for example, is tremendous,” says Walsh. “Hopefully another partnership will come along that will be even better.”

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What made the legendary West Indian duo so fiery is their desire to win games instead of focusing on their own numbers.

“If I take 10 wickets in a Test match and we lose, it’s a waste of time,” says Ambrose. “I love winning, winning is a nice feeling. I don’t take losing very well.”

And, oh boy, did they keep winning.

Between the years of 1988 and 2000, only one team won more Test matches than West Indies: Australia. Until the end of 1995, West Indies had the second-best win-loss ratio. Unfortunately, since then, the quality of cricket in the Caribbean has been on a decline.

While the English duo of Broad and Anderson have over 1000 Test wickets to their names, Walsh and Ambrose aren’t that far behind in terms of numbers. The two played a combined 230 Test matches as Walsh took 519 while Ambrose picked 405 scalps – taking their tally to 924 overall.

That, however, is not even the best part. The pair opened the bowling for their team in 52 Test matches and took 412 wickets in the process – which is a record bettered by on two new-ball partnerships.

It is safe to say that the duo set the standard.

“I think we set the bar,” Walsh says. “History will tell you that our records were broken, but it’s good to be able to say that.”

Ambrose nearly did NOT become a cricketer

It is unthinkable to entertain the thought of the legendary pacers not bowling 140 kmph+ regularly, let alone be so successful at it. However, if all the stars didn’t align, Ambrose and Walsh would have had very different careers.

Ambrose’s first love wasn’t cricket… actually, neither was his second as basketball and football took up those spots. It was, however, his mother that pushed him to pursue cricket professionally.

“From a young age I used to bowl with much older guys, but cricket wasn’t my love,” says Ambrose. “My first love has always been basketball, followed by football. Cricket was third in line.

“Fortunately, my mother – who is a cricket fanatic – wanted a cricketer in the family. She was the driving force, and deserves all the credit for getting me into cricket.”

Meanwhile, Courtney Walsh, too, could have headed down in another direction if it weren’t for fate.

“Originally when I started I was a spinner,” he says. “I did everything to spin the ball. But there was this concrete strip at Melbourne Cricket Club in Jamaica, where Michael Holding used to play, and I used to run in and bowl fast on that. That’s where it all started.”

How the duo developed their chemistry

A tale of two friends

In 1984, Courtney Walsh made it to the team and was joined by Ambrose about four years down the line.

It wasn’t a rosy partnership from the word go itself as the two really started forming a bond once they became roommates. It was the point from which the chemistry – that sent a chill down the spines of the batsmen facing them – began.

“Our partnership didn’t start from when I made the team,” Ambrose says. “In 1990 we became roommates, and that is when we learnt a lot more about each other and our friendship really started.”

“We’d have good nights where we’d have dinner together, we’d chat, we’d discuss other things than just cricket,” Walsh says.

“It helped us to understand each other, and how we each thought about things.”

Only three new-ball partnerships have been able to breach the 400 wickets mark. The first to reach the milestone were Walsh and Ambrose, obviously, and they were followed by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis of Pakistan, who were then succeeded by England’s Anderson and Broad.

And according to Ambrose, there was no secret ingredient as they would just look out for each other and go with the flow.

“There is no secret or magic to it,” Ambrose says. “If he [Walsh] was taking wickets, then my job was simply to make sure I kept the same pressure from the same end. If it was my day, he’d do the same.”

“We looked after each other,” says Walsh. “I would look to him from the boundary and tell him what I had seen or what I had noticed. And he would do the same for me. The best partnerships complement each other, but don’t compete against each other.”

However, there was always the fun rivalry going on between the two.

“Yeah, we would always have a smile, seeing who was going to get the most wickets that day,” says Walsh. “But it was a jovial thing. Curtly was the sort of guy who said, ‘Let’s see who can do things first.’”

In the end, it was Walsh that reached the landmark of getting 500 wickets in Test – and he was the first one to do so.

The captaincy and how it further accentuated the bond

10 years after his introduction to the international scene, Courtney Walsh was announced as the captain of the West Indies. While it might have been a problem for other friendships in cricket, Walsh’s jovial nature meant that the transition was effortless.

Ambrose fondly recalls the time when he still had the dibs on which end to bowl from.

“When Courtney became captain, I still had choice of ends,” he says. “So of course I always said to him, ‘I’m going to choose the end with the breeze at my back, and you’ve got to bowl into the wind’.

“He’s a joker, so he said, ‘Man, I’m the captain and you’re still ordering me around’. It never turned into a problem.”

Walsh concurred, stating that the most important part of the West Indies team was that they loved to be in each other’s company, something that made the bond within the team stronger.

“One of the highlights of the West Indies team was that we cherished everybody’s company,” says Walsh.

“It was a tremendous effort all round – every time you looked at that particular team you’d think, ‘Wow’. What we did was what the team required first and foremost.”

England's legendary Test pair

Anderson and Broad are now taking part in what could be their last Ashes as a pair. While Australia might be the favourites to win the Ashes according to the latest odds, Anderson and Broad could surely change the tide in England’s favour and further enhance their reputation as one of the greatest bowling-pairs of all time.

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