Under pressure: Best looks at Viv’s measured approach to Gayle’s ‘Ambi’ swipe

A guilty conscience, those who grew up in Trinidad in the second half of the 20th century would often have heard, needs no accuser.

Christopher Henry ‘Scrempy’ Gayle grew up in Kingston, Jamaica in the second half of the second half of the last century. But he probably heard it too.

Photo: West Indies batsman Chris Gayle tries to get out of the way of a bouncer against England during the 2019 ODI Cricket World Cup.
(Copyright AP/The Quint)

“I can tell you personally—and you can let him know,” Gayle told a radio host on a St Kitts station on Tuesday, “that Chris Gayle, the Universe Boss, have no respect for Curtly Ambrose whatsoever.”

On the Island Tea Morning Show, the iconic left-handed opener, whose selection on the 19-member squad picked to represent the region in the 2021 World Cup starting in the United Arab Emirates and Oman next week has provoked a lot of negative reaction, was responding to the iconic pacer’s comment that Gayle had not earned automatic selection on his starting team.

Speaking on a radio talk show in Barbados, Ambrose offered this eminently reasonable justification for his position:

“When you look at his exploits over the last 18 months, he has struggled not only for the West Indies but for other T20 franchises. The few home series we played, he hasn’t had any scores of significance.”

But he came under verbal attack anyway.

Photo: Cricket analyst and iconic former West Indies fast bowler Curtly Ambrose.

The feared 6’7” fast bowler with 405 Test wickets to his name is perfectly capable of defending himself. Ask Australia’s Steve Waugh or Dean Jones.

But the person who responded to tell Ambrose’s 6’3” Jamaican attacker to cool his herbs was Ambrose’s fearless 5’10” 69-year-old compatriot who never wore a helmet while taking 8,450 Test runs off the bowlers of his era, including the fastest and the best.

“It’s Curtly’s honest opinion and he’s entitled to that,” Richards urged, speaking directly but gently to the disgruntled 42-year-old, “and he is just as much an achiever as Chris Gayle at the highest level and you should have respect for that.

“[…] An individual who would have also been an achiever and a legend in the department of the sport we would have represented […] is entitled to a voice as well.”

Gayle did explicitly declare his intention not to ‘take anything from any senior player’.

Photo: Veteran West Indies batsman Chris Gayle.
(via Daily Pakistan)

“This team has been selected and we need past players to support us,” he continued, cleverly de-personalising the issue. “In other teams, their past players support their teams; why can’t our own support us in a big tournament like this?”

But people with long memories will know that the former West Indies captain was not taking medicine for other people’s ailments. It was empathy, I argue, that drove him to respond in Ambrose’s stead.

As far as I am aware, none of the pacer’s many on-field battles has ever spilled over into off-the-field encounters.

On at least one occasion, however, Richards has taken the fight to his detractors beyond the boundary.

Rewind to Antigua 1990. West Indies, led by Richards, have just levelled the series against Graham Gooch’s England at Kensington Oval and are going all out for a win in the last Test to claim the series rubber.

Photo: West Indies batsman Sir Viv Richards dispatches the ball to the boundary during a knock of 189 against England.

Here is Richards talking to Daily Express reporter James Lawton on the rest day:

“You write anything about me and I’ll come and whack you. A lot of crap is being written about me and it is time someone was sorted out.

“I’ll start with you.”

Lawton’s report on the incident appeared on the front page of the Express the next day under the headline ‘Captain Viv blows his top’.

As play was about to start, Viv appeared in the press box. With the entire press corps within earshot, Lawton got a proper dressing down.

Almost 20 years later, Lawton wrote this about the incident:

Photo: A fresh-faced Viv Richards makes himself at home at Lord’s in 1976.
(Copyright Wisden)

“[A] magnificent competitor was approaching the end of his powers and this fact, along with the pressures of a job which he turned into a crusade, had brought him to a brittle edge.”

So the old Viv understands the pressures the old ‘Universe Boss’ is feeling in a way, perhaps, that the old Ambi does not.

And Viv was running interference to protect them both.

Arguably, I submit, to protect Kieron Pollard’s troops as well as they prepare for the challenge of defending their title.

That means that Gayle’s narrative about the old-stagers not supporting the team, though clever, is false. Implicitly or explicitly criticising his selection does not amount to not supporting the West Indies team. Indeed, there are many who hold the view that not to ask questions about the surprising choice is in fact to play into the hands of Australia and England and South Africa, Pollard’s team’s major opponents in Group One.

Photo: West Indies legend Viv Richards (left) pals around with then legend-in-the-making Chris Gayle.

Of course, it is true that the Antigua threesome of Ambrose, Richards and former pacer Andy Roberts have long been very outspoken on regional cricket. But, in my view, there has been no particular focus on the negatives.

Their forthrightness, though, has not made them popular with current players.

Who has forgotten Edgbaston in 2012?

Having at long last delivered on his potential and got to three figures, Denesh Ramdin unforgettably whips a scribbled note out of his pocket and displays it to the watching world.

Yeah, Viv, it reads, Talk nah.

More recently, Ambrose declared that the West Indies glory days were a thing of the past and were not coming back. But the same ex-player had joined Clive Lloyd, Richards’ predecessor at the helm of the most successful regional team in history, in offering words of advice on how to approach the daunting challenge of taking on Bangladesh in two Tests as members of a second XI cobbled together at short notice.

Photo: West Indies bowler Jomel Warrican is congratulated by teammates as they down Bangladesh in the Second Test match to claim a 2-0 series win.

We have not yet forgotten how that turned out, have we?

The third member of the critical trio is Andy Roberts, held by many to be the number one fast bowler the region has produced.  The 70-year-old began this year by declaring that the current crop of fast bowlers will not reach their full potential because they do not want to do the hard yards.

“I don’t think that these guys are prepared for the hard work that fast bowling entails,” Roberts told the Mason and Guest programme.

“Most players now prefer to play T20s,” he went on. “It’s only four overs. [But] fast bowling is hard work, donkey work, I would say, and I just believe they are not prepared.”

“It has nothing to do with pitches,” he added, cutting the ground from under the apologists’ feet. “The young cricketers […] don’t want to work hard.”

Photo: West Indies pacer Andy Roberts steams in to bowl against Australia in 1975.

That drew a prompt retort from the then ICC number one all-rounder, Jason Holder, who commented that the legends are long on criticism but short on solutions.

Notwithstanding which, when the former West Indies Test captain was omitted from the 15-member World Cup squad last month and relegated to the reserves, Roberts expressed ‘shock’ at Holder’s omission.

Calling him ‘the best cricketer we have in the region’, Roberts said he would ‘pick him as one of my first choices for the World Cup. What is he doing in the reserves?’

Before this week, however, none of the three had added his voice to the chorus of criticism of the selection of the multiple T20 record-holder with over 14,000 runs to his name.

Coach Phil Simmons has never explicitly said so but it seems the stresses and strains of an arduous, protracted season have taken their toll on the players. Not just physically. So Simmons has recently been almost pleading with West Indies supporters to give his team ‘time to bond’.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard (left) and former captain Jason Holder have a chat during the third ODI against Sri Lanka in Antigua on 14 March 2021.
(Copyright CWI Media)

But is it really time to bond? Or is it perhaps time to heal?

Is it a job for the physios? Or a job for the psychs?

Perhaps the latest Gayle gale is a clear clue…

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About Earl Best

Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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  1. I feel that an option is best kept to yourself unless you want to share it personally with the person involve before sharing it on social media. It goes both ways

  2. Chris Gayle is one of those modern celebrities that are frankly insane… Like Nikki Minaj and Kanye and his pal Bravo…. They are worshippers of themselves, so his destination has been well laid out for him, actually centuries ago it was prepared.
    I was just commenting at the start of the Bangladesh versus Scotland game, that as upset as i am about the omission of Sunil Narine and Sherfane Rutherford and the relegation of Jason Holder to the same rank as Darren Bravo (absolute disrespect): i must support my team.
    Even if the chief selector, the manager, the captain and vice captain and the President of the Board care about only their personal agendas… F dem… I supporting the players that going to leave serious dna on the pitch….
    Now I’m being crazy in so doing, as i know we have a coach that caught da da fever of late, and we have a senior ex-fast bowler commentator dat went to a school in Belmont dat caught it as well and seems to be influencing dotishness in the camp.
    But cricket has a way that its fans believe in magic… I believed that Ricky would have belted Ben Sstokes. And he did!
    Straight to the point…. We are the 2-times defending champions, we won all versions of world competition in this form of the game… We have the best players to have played T20 cricket…so what madness is Bishop and Simmons talking about dot balls????
    It is downright dotish to change your game to mimic teams that can’t beat you at your current game. India, Australia and England have to sprang singles because their batters don’t know how to hit a boundary an over in T20 cricket… It is that simple.
    There are probably about a handful of players like dat outside of the West Indies. Bairstow comes to mind, Faf and de Kock. But the West Indies has at least 7 players dat could play dat role at the drop of a hat.
    Why would you want to tamper with the natural flow and command of the innings that our blasters have, to tell dem go out and sprang singles like dem lame England and Indian batters? There was nothing wrong with our strike rotation, it was not at the rate of a spranger team, but we are d bosses at T20!!!!
    Let the other teams come up to our level; don’t drop your levels to meet that of dem spranga sides.
    Which leads to this closer….the best players played where the money was there to pay the best…… There is a reason why Gayle was let go, and Hayden Walsh Jr and Darren Bravo never got an IPL contract…
    I suspect that if the meddling in the team is not reversed in the immediate short term, we would be seeing the backs of harper, Simmons and Estwick. As well as grovelling and damage control from Jimmy Adams and Ricky Skerrit after we exit, looking like a whimpering version of ourselves……

  3. You can all speak conveniently to your agenda. Have you all forget how Richards treated Patrick Patterson? Do you ever think that is what cause Patterson demise?

  4. Ambrose assessment of Gayle’s selection is well founded, therefore he (Gayle) must do a Denish Ramdin. Another point of note in this article is the comments made by Roberts about fast bowlers, which does not delineate the fact that there are good fast bowlers around such as Jason Holder. I formulate the impression that they (fast bowlers) can do better if they work harder. Supporting a team does not automatically translate into acceptance of its make-up. In my humble opinion for many years following WI cricket is that the players seems to have a culture of psychological imbalance, an area that requires much attention.

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