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Captivated by Curtly

Posted in England

When I was growing up I used to hate Curtly Ambrose. Those scary eyes, knees pumping during his run up, stumps - normally belonging to England batsmen - scattered in all directions and that wild celebration.

A friend of mine had a T-shirt with his Ambrose's face on and 'Curt the Hurt' splashed across the front. That said it all. He hurt our batsmen and I hated Curtly in return. Probably because he was so good. And he used to bully my childhood hero Graeme Hick.

Anyway, fast forward almost two decades and I came face-to-face with the giant himself at Monday's ICC Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

Awards evenings follow the same pattern - players walk along the red carpet and the media try and get their attention and hope they might do a quick interview. It's almost like speed dating. Apparently.

I already had Swann, Anderson, Bresnan and a few others in the can when a familiar face appeared at the bottom of the red carpeted runway - Curtly Ambrose.

The bowler was to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame later that evening - recognition for 405 Test wickets at just 20.99.

Remembering just his evil scowl when another England batsman played and missed, usually at a delivery that lifted off a length, I wasn't sure what he'd be like to interview. Cricinfo noted his motto as 'Curtly talk to no man', so what chance did I have? I need not have worried. He was a legend in every sense.

After he'd been grilled by a throng of Indian journalists about the plight of their team, he wandered off towards the hotel entrance, turning round only after I'd tamely shouted his name.

I offered my congratulations on his Hall of Fame entry and he responded with a huge smile that stretched from ear to ear. So much for Curt the Hurt. Long and lean, he still looks like he could whizz the ball down at 90mph if you wound him up, not that I'd be doing that.

Clearly proud at his award, he said how much he'd enjoyed his 12-and-a-half-year career - stressing the extra half a year which he said was spent toiling away in England. Those five Tests in 2000 on these shores were his last.

"I just enjoyed my career and I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann struggles to keep his eyes open during another tough interview for the ECB website on Monday night

We came face-to-face again a few hours later when the award winners, including our own Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, conducted press conferences inside the hotel.

Curtly had his moment too, recounting a few tales to the enthralled journos who lapped up every word. Even the normally talkative Tim Abrahams of Sky Sports News fame was silent, seemingly captivated by Curtly.

He recalled the 1994 Trinidad Test when an Ambrose-inspired West Indies blasted England out for just 46. I have vivid recollections of watching that car crash unfold on TV, Ambrose castling Graham Thorpe with the final ball of the day, providing the cue for Tony Cozier to pronounce joyously that England were 40 for eight.

My favourite Ambrose story, not mentioned on Monday evening, came in 1995 at Edgbaston. He unleashed the first ball of the match which exploded off a length, over Mike Atherton's head, past the keeper, bouncing just once before it clattered into the boundary boards.

Ambrose turned to Atherton and said: "You have a nice day, now."

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