When Tim Ambrose looks back on his Test tour of New Zealand with England ten years ago he does so very fondly – even though it brought him one extremely tense night trying to sleep three runs short of a maiden Test century.
Warwickshire wicketkeeper Ambrose made his debut in the first Test at Hamilton in March 2008 and made an excellent start with 55 in his first innings. After England lost that match, they then won the second at Wellington where Ambrose went one better, from half-century to maiden Test ton – a match-turning 102 after none of illustrious top five Alastair Cook, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell had reached 50.
It didn’t happen that day but I got there next morning. I think, because it was so early in my career, I didn’t really take it in. If I’d have thought about the situation it might have been quite overwhelming but I just went out there and enjoyed the experience.Tim Ambrose
It was a landmark match for the Bears’ keeper, albeit with a twitchy night after those three runs eluded him in the final over of the day from Jacob Oram.
“Ambrose was a revelation, flaying anything short and wide and driving crisply when the bowlers overcompensated,” reported Wisden. “Keen to reach his first Test hundred on the first evening, he launched into the second new ball.
“The day’s final over, with Oram bowling to Ambrose on 97, produced the most intense drama of the match. Five times Ambrose swished and missed outside off-stump; five times Oram stood and stared, five times the crowd oohed and aahed. Ambrose went on to claim his landmark next morning.”
It was a match, and a tour, which Ambrose will always treasure.
“I loved it,” Ambrose said. “New Zealand is a great place and it was brilliant, especially having grown up in that part of the world.
“We lost the first Test despite Ryan Sidebottom taking a hat-trick, then we were in a bit of trouble at the start of the second but recovered and I was 97 not out going into the last over.
“I was surprised that I was that close. It wasn’t something I’d been thinking about but then in the second-last over I got a back-of-a-length ball from Kyle Mills and picked it up off my hip and it went all the way and took me to 97.
“Oram was bowling really well, effectively 70-miles-an-hour spin. The ball was seaming all over the place and he bowled a really good over, though he did bowl one shortish one and I tried to cut it and missed it and remember thinking ‘that would have been really nice.’
“It didn’t happen that day but I got there next morning. I think, because it was so early in my career, I didn’t really take it in. If I’d have thought about the situation it might have been quite overwhelming but I just went out there and enjoyed the experience.”
Ambrose was an important contributor with the bat again in the final match as England fought back to win the series. That completed an excellent launch into his Test cricket for the former Sussex player, yet his Test career was to bring only 11 matches spanning less than a calendar year.
His vibrant unbeaten 76 against West Indies in Bridgetown in March 2009 transpired to be his final Test innings. Ambrose then spent 194.4 sweltering overs behind the stumps as the home side piled up 749 before the selectorial fickleness which haunted England wicketkeepers of that era struck again.
“I was proud of what I did for England,” he recalls. “But the home series against South Africa in 2008 was disappointing for me. I tinkered with some things in my batting which I shouldn’t have done. They didn’t really work and in the four Tests I batted six, seven and eight so it wasn’t a very settled situation. All the batters got a score, but no more than, that during the series and we lost the series because we didn’t get enough runs.
“I was the guy who didn’t get a score and paid the price. It felt a bit harsh, but I look back at having played for England only with great pride.”