Ambrose back in the groove

CRICKET: Australia 219 West Indies 29-1

It was only a matter of time and, in the nick of time, Curtly Ambrose returned to familiar wicket-taking mode on the opening day of the crucial Third Test yesterday.

Lack of form, luck and his usual self-belief had reduced the West Indies' premier bowler to a mere three wickets in the first two Tests, prompting conjecture that at 33 he was no longer capable of dismantling international opposition.

Within seven overs, on a crisp, clear morning, he had doubled his series tally, removing the new opener, Matthew Hayden, to a slip catch for five, bowling the Australian captain, Mark Taylor, off his body for seven and claiming the ever dangerous Mark Waugh plainly lbw first ball.

He added two more victims later, the first the threatening Ian Healy, and walked off the ground having kept what he later revealed was the first half of his promise to team-mates to collect 10 wickets in the match.

"I told them if I do that, we'll win easy," he said in a rare, relaxed press conference afterwards. "My team-mates have never lost faith in me and that has kept me strong."

Whether easy or not, the West Indies are in a position to dictate terms in a match they must win to retain an interest in the series they trail 2-0.

Ambrose's 5 for 55 from 24.5 probing overs, emphasised his well-established quality. It was the 15th time in his 64 Tests that he had dismissed at least half the opposition and was achieved with control, movement, bounce and variation that included the unaccustomed tactic of delivering round the wicket. Suggested to him by Malcolm Marshall, the West Indies coach, it accounted for Healy, providing Carl Hooper with the second of his three slip catches.

His efforts were mainly responsible for restricting Australia to 219, an inadequate total for a team batting first on winning the toss. It placed the onus for consolidating the West Indies' position on their batsmen who have been held by Courtney Walsh, their captain, accountable for the defeats in the first two Tests.

After Ambrose's early strikes and an efficient run-out of Justin Langer by Sherwin Campbell that left Australia 27 for 4 there was a mid-afternoon recovery.

To the encouragement of the biggest crowd at an Australian Test since the corresponding West Indies Boxing Day match 21 years ago, 72,821, compared with 85,661 then, their two most experienced and resolute fighters Steve Waugh and Healy were involved in successive face-saving partnerships with the in-form Greg Blewett.

Blewett, replacing Michael Bevan at No 6, was never entirely comfortable yet could not be moved for three and three-quarter hours until he was run out by the substitute Adrian Griffith's direct hit at the bowler's end for 62. He shared stands of 102 with Steve Waugh, who looked as if he would never get out until he did to Ian Bishop's fastest and best ball of the day, and 66 in an hour with the dashing Healy.

Once Ambrose dispatched Healy, the West Indies, for once, swept aside the tale, the last five wickets for 24.

Their effort was slightly spoiled with the loss of the in-form opener Campbell in the 13 overs they batted to close. He was replaced not by the usual No 3, the celebrated but currently struggling Brian Lara, but by another left-hander, Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Lara was held back to No 4 and there was no better time for him to fulfil his promise to Ambrose that he would get a hundred if his fast bowler got five wickets. Ambrose has completed his part of the bargain.

First day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings

*M A Taylor b Ambrose 7

M L Hayden c Hooper b Ambrose 5

J C Langer run out 12

M E Waugh lbw b Ambrose 0

S R Waugh c Murray b Bishop 58

G S Blewett run out 62

I A Healy c Hooper b Ambrose 36

P R Reiffel c Samuels b Benjamin 0

S K Warne c Campbell b Bishop 10

J N Gillespie not out 4

G D McGrath c Hooper b Ambrose 0

Extras (lb8 nb17) 25

Total (74.5 overs) 219

Fall: 1-5, 2-26, 3-26, 4-27, 5-129, 6-195, 7-200, 8-203, 9-217.

Bowling: Ambrose 24.5-7-55-5 (nb9); Benjamin 19-2-64-1 (nb1); Bishop 11-1-31-2 (nb2); Walsh 14-0-43-0 (nb5); Adams 1-0-4-0; Hooper 5-1-14-0.

WEST INDIES- First Innings

S L Campbell lbw b McGrath 7

R G Samuels not out 10

S Chanderpaul not out 11

Extras (lb1) 1

Total (for 1, 13 overs) 29

Fall: 1-12.

To bat: B C Lara, C L Hooper, J C Adams, J R Murray, K C G Benjamin, I R Bishop, C E L Ambrose, *C A Walsh.

Bowling: McGrath 6-3-6-1; Reiffel 5-0-21-0; Warne 1-0-1-0; Gillespie 1-1-0-0.

Umpires: S Venkataraghavan (India) and P Parker (Aus).

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