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Tim Ambrose's retirement as a player brought the end of an era at Warwickshire.

For well over a decade, he was part of the furniture behind the furniture for the Bears. On and off the field, he will be hugely missed. Over the next three days, speaking to Brian Halford, ‘Amby’ reflects upon his career with Warwickshire and England, firstly recalling how it all started for him, as an Aussie teenager with lots of cricket talent but no plan.

“I guess some of the best things in life aren’t planned,” says Tim Ambrose. He’s spot on, of course. And Ambrose’s great Warwickshire career, and indeed his whole life in English cricket, is a classic example.

Last month, after 14 years as a Bears linchpin behind the stumps and in the middle order, ‘Amby’ called time on that career. It closed with a record 1,012 wicketkeeping dismissals for Warwickshire, 16,632 runs, winner’s medals in all formats and also 11 Test appearances for England.

That career certainly transpired to be one the best things in his life…and it most certainly wasn’t planned.

But, back in the late ’90s, a teenaged, trainee greenkeeper from rural New South Wales decided to take a punt on a trip to England…and the rest is Bears history.  

“Aged 16 and 17 I was working on golf courses and landscaping and doing whatever I could get,” Ambrose recalls. “I just thought it was time to get out of the little bit of a rut I was in and do something different.

“I’ve got a British passport through my English mum and some cousins down in Arundel, so I saved up some money and thought I’d go and see a bit of the world. A good way to fund that was to play some cricket as I was playing quite well in Australia.

“It was really just a way to fund a bit of a holiday but I sent a CV over to Hampshire and Sussex. Sussex’s chief exec at the time was Dave Gilbert from New South Wales so he recognised me and thought I was worth a look.

“The day after I landed in England I had a two-day trial at Hove. It rained the whole time and was pretty miserable and I didn’t really know what was going on. I remember rocking up and thinking ‘this is a pretty good club ground’ – I had no idea it was professional cricket, I hadn’t really looked into it. But they sent me down to Eastbourne and I played a season there and a few second-team games and they offered me a two-year deal.

Tim Ambrose

“I guess some of the best things in life aren’t planned. You go wherever life takes you. I was a 17-year-old doing greenkeeping and travelling to Sydney twice a week to play cricket and then someone says ‘would you like to play cricket for a living and we’ll pay you to do it?’ That’s a pretty easy decision.”

The seeds of a legendary Warwickshire career had been sown, but first came five seasons at Sussex where Ambrose tasted championship glory but found himself competing for the ‘keeper’s spot with another emerging youngster, Matt Prior.

“I loved it at Sussex and we had some great times and won the championship in 2003,” he said. “But my contract was up at the end of 2005 and I hadn’t really progressed from ’03. I’d sort of stood still and become an easy drop and needed a change to get things back on track.

“Peter Moores was leaving as coach and, as much as he encouraged me to stay, he also knew that me and Matt couldn’t both keep wicket, so he was quite instrumental in me deciding to taking the plunge and challenge myself somewhere else.

“I spoke to Warwickshire and Lancashire and came to Edgbaston as 12th man for Sussex and spoke to Dennis Amiss and John Inverarity. That was it really – when a club like Warwickshire came knocking, there was no way I was going to say no. It was a fantastic opportunity. They said we want to offer you the opportunity to have a crack at playing for England, which we know you want to do, and that’s something the club prides itself on, producing England players.

“Actually, it turned out to be a strange start because my move stemmed from a conversation with Dennis and John, and Nick Knight was captain. Then I went to Cape Town for the winter and when I got back to the Bears, Mark Greatbatch was coach, Colin Povey was chief exec and Heath Streak was captain, so everything had changed!

“I remember sitting down with them in the New Forest pre-season and they said ‘we’re going to play you in the one-dayers but Tony Frost’s going to start in the four-dayers.’ I thought ‘well, that’s a bit different to what was in the brochure, but that’s the way it goes’ and I just threw myself into it. I was really fired up to move on again after a wasted couple of years at Sussex.

“It turned out that Frosty and I were both injured for the first game and Freddie Klokker played. I made my debut in the next game, at home to Yorkshire, and it was a fantastic game which we won in the third-last over. Then I got a hundred in the next game and felt very at home. I really felt a part of it at the Bears very quickly.”

Ambrose was on the path towards his ambition of playing for England and he accelerated along it thanks to the guidance of perhaps the best English wicketkeeper never to play Test cricket.

“I was very fortunate that I got to work with Keith Piper,” he said. “That winter I worked intensively with Pipes and it made such a difference to my keeping but also a huge difference to my batting. It was amazing to work with someone I had idolised. When he talked about cricket, it just made so much sense. It was very simple, about getting the basics right, and it really clicked. My game developed so much thanks to Pipes.”

Tim Ambrose

Amby also offers thanks to a man whose time at Edgbaston was less than happy, Mark Greatbatch, director of cricket in 2006 and the double relegation season in 2007.

“Mark didn’t have the smoothest ride and things didn’t end brilliantly for him, but he backed me from very early on,” he said. “He made me captain for the last three games of his second season which certainly wasn’t on my radar and he backed me and gave me a lot of confidence.”

Amby was established at Edgbaston and, as the Bears bounced straight back under Ashley Giles with championship promotion the following season, his name began to feature in the notebooks of England’s selectors.

* In Part Two tomorrow, Amby reflects upon his England career and the dark time that followed it – “I didn’t really know what I was playing cricket for” – and recalls how one kind comment from a Bears fans gave him strength at his lowest ebb.