Cricket: Ambrose's carbon copy lifts West Indies: The world's best fast bowler may soon retire but a likely replacement is ready. Tony Cozier reports from Bridgetown

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BATSMEN elsewhere may have relaxed a little at the news that Curtly Ambrose is contemplating early retirement but England know that they still have to face the game's meanest fast bowler when the Test series starts in Kingston next week.

In fact, on the evidence of the West Indian domestic season, they could find themselves having to contend not with one Ambrose but with two. The leading fast bowler in the Red Stripe Cup is Cameron Cuffy, a 23-year-old from St Vincent who has batsmen blinking twice as to his true identity. Six feet six inches tall, with legs that seem to start under his armpit, he is a Curtly carbon copy.

His pace is not express, being somewhat below Ambrose's, but he has emulated his hero's use of height and mean control of length and line and, in 10 first-class and one-day matches has taken 42 wickets at 15 runs each.

This is Cuffy's fourth season in the weak Windward Islands team and he has improved by the leaps and bounds that characterise his run-up and delivery. His record has been enhanced by the quality of his victims. He removed Brian Lara, who has been in compelling form, cheaply in both innings against Trinidad and Tobago, counted Carl Hooper among his five against Guyana, bowled Keith Arthurton for one against the Leeward Islands and dispatched Desmond Haynes first ball against Barbados. Since he has no overseas professional contract and, instead, works as a clerk at the Cable and Wireless office on his home island, he would present something fresh and unknown to English batsmen to whom the rest of the fast bowling alternatives are familiar through county cricket.

Michael Holding has been impressed with Cuffy's advance and sees him as a real contender for a Test place. 'He just needs a little more pace and, with his physique and obvious strength, he can get that if he puts his run-up right. At present he is losing rhythm in the middle of it.'

Ambrose and Courtney Walsh have overcome minor injuries and been among the wickets so they are certainties to use the new ball for the West Indies. Winston Benjamin, formerly with Leicestershire and from next season Hampshire; Kenneth Benjamin, discarded by Worcestershire; and Andy Cummins, retained by Durham for a second summer, are the supporting incumbents. But Cuffy has shown enough to persuade the selectors to make a change.

England's interest in the opposition's form has not been helped by the lack of information on Antigua and St Kitts, their two ports of call so far, where there are no daily papers. But their well-informed taxi drivers, caddies and waiters would have kept them fully appraised. They are bound to have learned of the heavy scoring of Lara and his fellow left-handers, Jimmy Adams and Arthurton, and of the dogged return of West Indies' captain, Richie Richardson.

Ordered by his doctors to take a month's break on his return from recent exhausting tours of Sharjah, India and Sri Lanka, Richardson missed the first three Red Stripe Cup matches and was understandably rusty when out for nought in his first innings back in a one-day match. A couple of days later he made 151 against Jamaica in his first first-class knock since last September, for Yorkshire.

The man of the moment, however, is indisputably Lara, the flamboyant little Trinidadian whose 707 runs are a new tournament record. He has had innings of 180 against Jamaica, 169 against Guyana and 206 against Barbados, inspiring his island's first serious bid for the Red Stripe Cup since 1975.

His dominance against Jamaica was almost beyond belief. He made that 180, not only out of a total of 257, but out of the 219 scored while he was at the wicket - a staggering 86 per cent. He needed only 263 balls for his runs and stroked three sixes and 23 fours, all further evidence of the genius first revealed in his 277 against Australia in the Sydney Test just over a year ago. England can be in no doubt about the wicket they will prize most in this series.

(Photograph omitted)