Ambrose on the warpath

West Indies v Sri Lanka
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Curtley Ambrose persecuted the Sri Lankan batsmen on a venomous pitch on the opening day of the first Test here yesterday before a partnership of rare skill and courage between Sanath Jayasuriya and captain Arjuna Ranatunga lifted the threat of a disastrous collapse.

The first Test between the teams in the Caribbean saw Sri Lanka recover from 23 for 3 to 119 for 3 early in the afternoon session. Jayasuriya was 71 and Ranatunga 31.

Courtney Walsh, the West Indies' captain, had no hesitation in sending Sri Lanka in to bat on a pitch still unusually moist from the late pre- match preparation.

The ferocious Ambrose, charging in with the Viv Richards Pavilion at his back and cheered on by his fellow Antiguans, dispatched the opener Roshan Mahamana in his third over, the left-handed Russell Arnold next ball, and then the dangerous Aravinda de Silva. The elongated fast bowler was virtually unplayable as the ball lifted steeply and moved off the seam to the consternation of the batsmen.

Ambrose, who had not taken a Test wicket since the third match of the preceding series against India six weeks and 38 overs ago, was stalled frustratingly on 295 Test wickets, but within 40 minutes here he was only two wickets away from becoming the fourth West Indian with 300 in Tests.

Mahamana prodded at a leg-cutter to be caught at the wicket and Arnold's tentative prod deflected a catch to third slip. De Silva, coming off consecutive hundreds in his last three Test innings against Pakistan, attempted an entirely inappropriate back-foot stroke which lobbed a catch to cover before he had scored.

Jayasuriya began with a flourish, hoisting Ian Bishop for six over square leg in the second over, but he had to endure the pain of several blows on the body, inevitable on such a surface. Three times the Sri Lankan medical corps was obliged to come to his aid on the field after he was rapped on the glove and on the box by Ambrose, and on the grille of the helmet by Bishop.

When Jayasuriya was on 36 he offered a stiff chance to Sherwin Campbell at gully off Bishop, but nothing could deflect him from his purpose and, when Bishop shortened outside the off-stump, he square cut the ball out of the ground into adjoining Independence Avenue. It was a remarkable blow.

The influence of the hot sun during lunch seemed to ease the pitch and batting became easier during the early part of the afternoon against an attack which lost its edge while Ambrose was rested.