When Tim Ambrose reflects upon his cricket career, he divides it into two distinct halves. Of the first half, which saw him fulfil his ambition of playing Test cricket and represent England across all formats, he is proud. Of the second half, during which he played only for Warwickshire, he is prouder still. With good reason.
After Ambrose’s international career ended abruptly (and somewhat harshly – he scored 76 not out in his final Test innings) in 2009 after 11 Tests, he suffered a spell of depression which forced him to take a step back from cricket.
Never mind the demands of Test cricket…that was, by a mile, his biggest test. Like many people in all sectors of society, he found himself questioning everything. He was on the threshold of turning his back on the sport that had been has life.
That he not only stayed in cricket but went on to play as well as, if not better than, ever before and spend the next decade at the heart of the Bears team as they won every available trophy, is a measure of the man.
“It feels like I had two careers. In the first, I dedicated it to just one thing, playing international cricket. In the second, I dedicated it to a lot of other things and found that really fulfilling. I am proud of both, in different ways.Tim Ambrose
“I played Test cricket so, first and foremost, achieved what I wanted to achieve, which not everyone gets to do, so that’s a lot to be proud of. I know how much work and sacrifice it takes for anybody to get to play for their country. My family and friends were able to see me make my Test debut in New Zealand and that’s something I gave back to them for the sacrifices they made for me.
“I don’t feel that I let myself or anybody else down as an international player. There are things I would do differently if I had the chance again, but that’s not how it works. You always want to play more, so there will always be a little bit of disappointment that you didn’t, but I remember when Ian Healy was forced out of the Test team for Adam Gilchrist after he’d played 99 Tests, someone said how sad it was that he might not to get 100. My coach at the time said to me ‘don’t feel sorry for that bloke, he played 99 Tests!’
“That’s the point. I played some Tests. I achieved what I set out to achieve.”
Ambrose is right – he certainly didn’t let anybody down on England duty. But the selectors decided to go with Matt Prior and Amby found himself back in county cricket wrestling with an acute sense of anti-climax. Suddenly, life was very strange.
During the 2010 season, he had to step away from cricket.
“I had put so much work for such a long time into my goal of playing for England,” he said, “I made a lot of sacrifices in my personal life to stay focused on what I was trying to do and then, when it ended, I felt it was quite a conclusive ending. England told me to go away and do certain things and I did them, but heard nothing again. So I thought ‘that’s me fallen off the edge of it’.
“I didn’t really know what I was playing cricket for. Up to that point, I hadn’t balanced my personal and professional lives very well. I’d been so focused on a specific goal and now that was gone, it was very hard to work out what my motivation was.Tim Ambrose
“It was a very tough time but, looking back, I think an important time that I had to go through and work a few things out and, as much as I am proud of my cricket career, I am proud of the strides I made as a person during that period. They will serve me well a lot longer than being able to hit a nice cover drive.
“I’ll always be so grateful to the people who supported me during that time. The Bears fans were fantastic and one comment stands out. I vividly remember it. I was in a bad place at the time, coming into work and not saying a word for days on end. Ashley Giles didn’t know what to do with me, Ian Westwood didn’t know what to do with me and I didn’t know what to do. I was a bit of a walking mess.
“It was when the new Pavilion End was being built and we were at the Birmingham End. I had got out and we had to weave up between the crowd and I remember a man behind me just saying: ‘Keep your head up, Tim, we’re all behind you.’
“That got in my head. I thought: ‘Yeah, people do care…right, you’re just meandering into nowhere here, it’s time to do something about this. What you’re doing does matter to people and you’ve got a great opportunity to keep doing it, so you need to work this out.’
“In the next 18 months I made a big effort to do what I had to do and make sure I repaid all those people who had been patient with me and supported me. I sat out the rest of 2010 and went away for the winter then came back and signed a one-year contract. I told Ash, ‘quite honestly, I can’t guarantee this is going to work, but I’d really like a shot at it’.”Tim Ambrose
It worked. In 2011, Ambrose played 15 of the 16 championship games as the Bears’ finished runners up. In 2012, he averaged 44.50 with the bat and kept wicket better than ever as they won the title.
“It really clicked,” he said. “I felt I had some motivations and goals and had it back under control. I became a better person and hopefully a better team mate.
“I had sat outside Gilo’s office a few times about to walk in and say ‘that’s it.’ At one stage, I cleared my locker and said goodbye to Cookie. I didn’t see myself playing cricket again. So to then get another ten or 11 years at this amazing club and genuinely enjoy it and win every trophy…I am very thankful. The last decade, for me, has been far more rewarding than my achievements before.”
* In Part Three tomorrow, Amby looks ahead to the future and picks out his special memories of the Bears. “Winning trophies is what you play for but it’s as much the tough days I enjoyed…the days when you just think you’re bloody lucky to be doing this for a living.”