Cricketer's Diary: At the court of King Curt

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The Independent Online
Thursday

NORTHAMPTON is a place famous for footwear rather than lawnmowers. Which is why the county team is supported by Doctor Martens and groundsmen who like meadows. Well, wouldn't you if you had Curtly Ambrose in your side?

Funnily enough, the giant West Indian, who took up cricket only 10 years ago, does not enjoy operating on such surfaces, and found it hard motivating himself at times against Durham. He even apologised to a couple of batsmen when deliveries reared from a length and rammed the knuckles against the bat handle.

You have to marvel at his wonderful rhythm and skill - he is so athletic he looks like an ordinary mortal on stilts - not for nothing is he known as King Curt.

Quite apart from being the undisputed champion fast bowler in world cricket, he now dominates the dressing-room with good-natured banter, a remarkable transformation from the silent soul who never ventured out of his headphonic world of Soca during his first year with Northamptonshire in 1989. Had he got any advice about getting taller, I asked him in the showers, noticing that his head just brushed the ceiling. 'Give eet a few years,' he said, smirking.

Friday

NOT MANY Test batsmen outscore Allan Lamb, never mind 20-year-old lads of Irish stock. Nevertheless Malachy Loye, born only a nurdle or two from the County Ground, made his captain look a stonewaller as he raced to 50, with confidence, panache and penchant for backfoot punches - the trademark of a quality player.

The interesting thing about Loye, slightly gawky and self-effacing, is that he played precisely no cricket at school - the nearby Moulton comprehensive - as it happens, exactly the same establishment attended earlier by Ian Salisbury, of Sussex.

Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis took the same bus route from Wembley to Willesden High School in the early 1980s, where at one point the only competitive sport was apparently Gaelic football.

This is not still the case, but it says a lot for our amateur clubs that the abilities of four burgeoning youngsters were sustained at times when they were probably meant to be doing homework. One wonders, however, how much other booming talent has been lost somewhere in the state education system.

Saturday

THE DOUGHTY Northamptonshire opener, Nigel Felton, has certainly done his bit for youth cricket. Not in this country, though. A son of the Cape coloured community (four million South Africans originating from the occasional associations of whites, blacks, Hottentots, Malays, Indians and Chinese) he initiated a development scheme for non-white clubs in the Cape Town area.

Six other county cricketers played and coached at these clubs, some of which had junior sections of 600 kids. No wonder the standard of our cricket is slipping on the world stage.

Monday

IN DANGER of registering my first ever pair as I arrive to face a rampaging Ambrose, who grins confidently as I pass him. Contemplate asking him to remove his distracting white wrist bands, but the last time someone did that (Dean Jones) he took 7 for 1 so decide against it. Take guard, leg stump. Not much point looking round the field as they're all in that umbrella formation last seen when Lillee and Thomson were in tandem. Ball arrives on a length, lifts and flies via the shoulder of the bat to gully. Oh well, it had to happen sometime.

Mark Ramprakash will chuckle, as he is known to have a sadistic fascination for people making a pair.

At least it wasn't as bad as Dickie Bird's effort between tea and the close of play on the first day of a match for Leicestershire. 'Dexter came back from the golf course or something to declare Sussex's innings closed at 340 by 4pm. Then they knocked us over for 40 and nipped me out again for nought before stumps. A pair in one session, is that a world record?'

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