The ninth instalment in our new series where we compare two legendary cricketers from the same generation. Rather than necessarily settle the debate on who is ‘better’, this series attempts to illustrate who had a greater say in dictating his country’s cricketing fortunes. Along the way, you may also find a few facets of these players that are not necessarily discussed in conventional media.

West Indies were once a force to be reckoned with, the Calypso batting swagger perfectly complementing a laconic yet menacing bowling unit. Today, we look back at an iconic pair who – one could say – were their last Mohicans.


Curtly Ambrose vs Courtney Walsh

 A comparison of pace bowlers in Test cricket

Curtly Ambrose vs Courtney Walsh


Curtly Ambrose

Courtney Walsh

Maximum or

Highest (100%)

Number of Tests 98 132 Courtney Walsh (132)
Wickets Taken 405 519 Glenn McGrath (563)
Bowling Average 20.99 24.44 Malcolm Marshall (20.94)
Percentage of team wickets taken 26% 25% Richard Hadlee (38.25)
Bowling Impact 74 60 Dennis Lillee
Top-Middle Order Wicket Impact 79 71 Dennis Lillee
Economy Impact 82 34 Glenn McGrath
Bowling Impact in wins (min. 20 Tests) 51 41 Richard Hadlee
Impact at Home (min. 25 Tests) 68 51 Craig McDermott
Impact Away (min. 20 Tests) 64 49 Dennis Lillee
Impact in Subcontinent (min. 10 Tests) 54 100 Courtney Walsh
Impact in Aus/SA (min. 10 Tests) 79 31 Alan Davidson
Impact in Eng/NZ (min. 10 Tests) 45 36 Dennis Lillee
Failure Rate (min. 50 Tests) 26% 22% Joel Garner (12%)
Number of Series-Defining performances 3 (once every 33 Tests) 2 (once every 66 Tests) Richard Hadlee and Dale Steyn (7)
Number of high impact performances 26 (once every 4 Tests) 17 (once every 8 Tests) Glenn McGrath (32)
Most dominant period in career June 1991 – April 1994 November 1998 – August 2000 n/a
Number of years as highest impact bowler 0 0 Richard Hadlee – 4

(1980, 1984, 1985, 1987)

Highest impact bowler in a match 20 18 Glenn McGrath

(31 in 124 Tests)

Highest impact bowler in a series (in 25 Test series) 4 (in 35 Test series) Richard Hadlee

(10 in 33 Test series)

1) All parameters from ‘ Bowling Impact ’ till ‘Impact in Eng/NZ’ are expressed on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the maximum for any player in Test history in that parameter. A player’s impact in a particular parameter is then expressed as a percentage of it.
Example: Glenn McGrath has the highest Economy Impact among pace bowlers in Test cricket history. So he denotes 100 for that parameter. Curtly Ambrose’s and Courtney Walsh’s Economy Impact are then expressed as a percentage of McGrath’s Economy Impact .
2) From ‘Bowling Average’ till ‘ Economy Impact ’, a minimum of 50 matches is considered as qualification. For all other parameters, the qualification is mentioned alongside.
3) Only pace bowlers have been considered for this comparison.



Curtly Ambrose trails Courtney Walsh by 114 wickets, and yet his impact is almost 23% higher. Ambrose remains the third-highest impact bowler in West Indies’ Test history (after Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding; min. 50 Tests). Walsh comes in at number six.

While Ambrose is superior in almost all key parameters, his effectiveness in wins and in away Tests – especially those played in Australia and South Africa – stand out.

Ambrose was extremely restrictive too. As it turns out, he has the second-highest Economy Impact among pace bowlers in the history of Test cricket (after Glenn McGrath; min 50 Tests).

Walsh, however, was more consistent and he had a much higher impact than Ambrose in the subcontinent. In fact, both his series-defining performances have come in the said geography – one each in Pakistan (1986/87) and India (1994/95) – and he also happens to be the highest impact overseas fast bowler there.


Courtney Walsh finished his career with more wickets, but it was Curtly Ambrose who claimed more scalps when they were both part of the starting XI. Together, the pair featured in 95 Test matches and accounted for 762 victims – Ambrose alone dismissed 389. West Indies won 42 of those Tests and drew 28, and it was again that man Ambrose who took the greater share of spoils – 295 of the 550 dismissals. No wonder he was higher impact, while a ‘workhorse’ attitude became Walsh’s legacy.


Karthik Swaminathan

Illustrations: Vasim Maner