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West Indies selectors put faith in Ambrose

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins in Kingston, Jamaica

21 January 1998

CURTLY AMBROSE was named in the West Indies squad of 13 for the first Test starting next Thursday at Kingston yesterday, despite a rumour that he was contemplating imminent retirement. The selectors have opted for experience in a team containing six fast bowlers and no spinners.

Stuart Williams is retained as Sherwin Campbell's opening partner, despite a disappointing tour of Pakistan, and Jimmy Adams is recalled as expected at No 6, in place of Roland Holder, of Barbados.

It was the choice of fast bowlers which had been the chief subject of speculation. Brian Lara, the new captain, no doubt insisted that Ian Bishop - who also had a bad time in Pakistan should be retained, but the presence in the team of two younger bowlers, Mervyn Dillon and the giant St Vincentian, Nixon McLean, is an indication that the days of Ambrose and Courtney Walsh are numbered.

Certainly it is becoming increasingly clear with Ambrose that, though the spirit of this brooding 6ft 7in Antiguan is still willing, the thin frame may be close to finding that it has had enough of the hard work demanded of an international fast bowler. In 73 Tests, he has taken 307 wickets, fourth for the West Indies behind Malcolm Marshall, Walsh and Lance Gibbs.

Despite evidence of his declining powers, Ambrose had said after his early return from the tour of Pakistan, in which he took only one Test wicket and managed only 44 overs in two Tests, that he was keen to return to the West Indies side against England.

However, he had a poor match against Barbados for the Leeward Islands over the weekend, leading to speculation that he might be dropped.

He did not take the field as Barbados knocked off the 31 runs required to win the match in Bridgetown on Monday and spent the time instead in conversation with Wes Hall, West Indies' chairman of selectors.

Lara said before leaving for the selection meeting that he had hoped to persuade Ambrose to carry on. Hall may have used the ``form is temporary, class is permanent'' line of reasoning.

Whatever the deliberations, before the party was announced yesterday, a source close to Ambrose said that he had gone so far as to frame a letter withdrawing from the series against England. Ambrose, however, refuted that, saying: ``That's vicious, a rumour. Only Curtly knows when Curtly is going to retire. I still have something to offer West Indies cricket. If I intend to retire, the first people I should notify is the West Indies board. I didn't notify them, they didn't say anything. That [retirement report] did not come from me.''

With his long, straight run and incomparably high point of delivery, Ambrose's success has been based upon speed, bounce and accuracy. When the force has been with him, as it was during that devastating demolition of England in Trinidad four years ago (six for 24) or when seizing a Test which had been almost saved with eight for 45 at Bridgetown in 1990, he was almost irresistible.

In Australia last winter, he was prominent in both the Tests which the West Indies won but he bowled only 173 first-class overs on the tour (taking 19 wickets at 24). Then, in five Tests on unresponsive pitches against India when he got home, he collected only 10 wickets. For the time being, though, the selectors have decided to keep faith with him.

WEST INDIES SQUAD (First Test, v England, Jamaica, Jan 29): *B C Lara, S L Campbell, S C Williams, C L Hooper, S Chanderpaul, J C Adams, -D Williams, I R Bishop, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, F A Rose, M Dillon, N McLean.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:17