The West Indian fast bowler, it was later discovered, has decided to 'take a break from cricket'. How long for nobody knows, least of all Northants, whose officials spent yesterday considering the choice of swallowing their pride and simply waiting for him to arrive, or sacking him and engaging another overseas player. The second option has two drawbacks; they may not be allowed to sign another player under Test and County Cricket Board regulations, and even if they were there are few quality replacements available.
A statement issued last night by the club's general committee said a decision would be made 'after further consultations with Ambrose, the TCCB and legal advisers'. The committee added it had considered the 'strong sense of disappointment of the playing staff' but did not wish to 'act in haste'. An announcement is expected tomorrow.
Ambrose, the club said, had told them he 'did not feel in the right frame of mind to do justice to the firm commitment he has to the club'. Coverdale said his gut feeling was that Ambrose would play again for Northants but he 'would not put his life on it'.
Rumours suggesting Ambrose might miss the season have emanated from the Caribbean all winter only to be denied by both county and player, the latter even threatening legal action. Nevertheless Coverdale would not have needed to be waiting long at Gatwick yesterday before becoming nervous at Ambrose's non- appearance in the arrivals hall.
As the day wore on the mood at Northampton turned from anxiety to anger at Ambrose's apparent failure to honour his contract. Both the chairman, Lyn Wilson, who recently saw him in Barbados, and Coverdale, who spoke to him three days ago, had been given no indication that Ambrose might not arrive as planned and it was only when Allan Lamb, the county captain, managed to track him down they heard of his desire for 'a break'.
'At the moment,' Coverdale said, 'we have no idea how long that break may be.'
If Northants are to have any chance of replacing Ambrose with another overseas player they need to make a decision soon. Technically it is already too late. Tony Brown, the TCCB's administration secretary, said: 'The regulations only allow a county to change their unqualified (overseas) cricketer after 13 April (the official start of the season) if he has been picked to tour England with his country. It is possible to ask the registration committee for dispensation if there are special circumstances and there are occasions when that has been given.'
Danny Morrison, New Zealand's key fast bowler, will be out of action for another two weeks with a groin injury but hopes to be fit in time for the Texaco Trophy internationals against England on 19 and 21 May.
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