Revitalised by the sight of an extraordinary green pitch, his team's uncomfortable position in the series and, no doubt, public doubts over his form, Curtly Ambrose gave the West Indies an early advantage in the crucial third Test against Australia here in Trinidad yesterday.
Bounding in from the same pavilion end from which he routed England for their all-out 46 a year ago, the beanpole Antiguan removed the captain, Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh and David Boon in an opening spell of 12 overs that left Australia in ruins. By tea, they had declined to 112 for 7 and Ambrose was raring to get back to try to clean up the tail, but rain prevented further play.
His new-found intensity was typified in a heated, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in the course of an over to Steve Waugh. A bouncer that lobbed high over the batsman's head and just carried to the wicketkeeper's gloves seemed to draw a comment from Waugh. Ambrose, with a few elongated strides, followed through until he was so close that the Australian could feel the heat of his bated breath down his neck. Ambrose waved his finger menacingly and the situation might have become physical had not the West Indies captain, Richie Richardson, sprinted from slip to intervene. Even then he needed to drag Ambrose away by the arm.
It was something of an irony that Ambrose should have given Waugh a reprieve when he was 35, dropping a two-handed ankle-high chance at mid-off off Kenny Benjamin.
It further enlivened an already animated crowd of 15,000 which shouted its approval when, two balls later, a nasty lifter thumped into Waugh's shoulder. But the dogged Waugh seemed only to be more resolute and was carrying Australia's fight almost single-handedly. In spite of a couple of blows to the body, one of which required on-the-field medical attention to his left forearm, he was unbeaten on 54 at tea.
Australia's woes began even before a ball was delivered when Taylor called tails for the sixth consecutive time on tour - and the coin landed on heads yet again. The clouds hung low over Port of Spain, the humidity was enervating and the pitch carried a layer of grass to make any fast- bowlers eyes glint. Had it been 20 degrees colder, it might have been Leeds.
It did not take long for the Australians to discover that it was going to be a rough day. Michael Slater withdrew from a leg cutter from Courtney Walsh too late and edged the third ball of the second over to the wicketkeeper. Off the second ball of the next over, Taylor prodded a catch from bat, then pad, to short leg to provide Ambrose with the first of his wickets. Mark Waugh was the second, fishing at one outside off stump and giving the wicketkeeper Junior Murray a right-handed catch.
At 14 for 3, Australia depended heavily on their two most experienced batsmen, David Boon and Steve Waugh, to revive their innings. Boon received a mixed reception as he walked out in his 100th Test. He was chaired all the way by spectators and players but then survived two deliveries from Walsh as difficult as any he might have ever faced.
When it rained after 55 minutes Boon and Waugh were still together. On resumption after lunch Ambrose, settling down after his set-to with Waugh, produced the perfect leg cutter to end Boon's resistance that had lasted 70 minutes, Richardson snared the resulting edge at third slip.
Ambrose was eventually relieved after 12 overs but there was no respite for the Australians. Greg Blewett was caught behind off the inside edge off Winston Benjamin, Ian Healy was taken on the rebound from Murray's gloves by Richardson off Walsh, and Brendon Julian stabbed a sharp catch to Jimmy Adams off Kenny Benjamin just before tea.
(West Indies won toss)
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
*M A Taylor c Adams b Ambrose 2
M J Slater c Murray b Walsh 0
D C Boon c Richardson b Ambrose 18
M E Waugh c Murray b Ambrose 2
S R Waugh not out 54
G S Blewett c Murray b W Benjamin 17
I A Healy c Richardson b Walsh 8
B P Julian C Adams b K Benjamin 0
P R Reiffel not out 6
Extras (lb 4 w1) 5
Total (for 7, 39 overs) 112
Fall: 1-2, 2-2, 3-14, 4-37, 5-62, 6-95, 7-98.
To bat: S K Warne, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Ambrose 12-4-35-3; Walsh 13-1-46-2; W Benjamin 6-3-13-1 (w1); K Benjamin 8-2-14-1.
West Indies: *R B Richarson, S C Williams, B C Lara, J C Adams, C L Hooper, K L T Arthurton, J R Murray, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, K C G Benjamin.
Umpires: C Cumberbatch, D R Shepherd. TV replay umpire: R Gosein. Match referee: Majid Khan.
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