Cricket: Ambrose delivers the goods

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Curtly Ambrose, as always, has been true to his word. When the doubting Thomases - and the doubting Tonys, for that matter - were wondering whether the great and gangling Antiguan still had it in him to spearhead the West Indies attack as he had done with such effect for so long, Ambrose spoke on his own behalf.

"They're talking big," he said of England's optimistic boasts prior to the series. "They figure they have a chance of beating the West Indies so that really motivates me. I'll be ready for them."

For the first month of the season, he certainly did not seem ready. He had returned early from the tour of Pakistan carrying a back strain and looked a poor imitation of himself in the first couple of President's Cup matches for the Leeward Islands.

He so lacked rhythm that he sent down 43 no-balls in four innings and he had the indignity of being smashed around Kensington Oval by Patterson Thompson, the burly Barbados fast bowler who is one of the game's most authentic No 11s.

It was said that he had drafted his retirement letter, a rumour he himself dispelled with a sharp assertion that "Only Curtly Ambrose knows when Curtly Ambrose should quit."

Despite being a match-winner for 10 years, his supposed exit was not viewed as a crippling blow to the West Indies. He is 34 and the time had come to move on, so the argument went.

All ageing men of speed have heard it before, not least Wes Hall, the chairman of the West Indies selectors. He appreciated the value of class and experience in such a vital series and also the psychological advantage of having someone with 117 Test wickets against England at under 20 runs each.

Just over a year ago, in the series in Australia, there was the same concern after Ambrose had managed only three wickets in the first two Tests. Hepromised to take 10 wickets in the third Test at Melbourne and that the West Indies would win. He took nine and they did win.

Queen's Park is a favourite ground for Ambrose. It was here that he routed England for 46 in that dramatic defeat four years ago and he has now gathered 39 wickets in his last five Tests here. Yesterday he set up an outside chance of victory for the West Indies. It was up to the batsmen not to let him down.

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