Uncertainty over the effectiveness and match readiness of Curtly Ambrose was reflected in the selection of the West Indies squad of 13 yesterday for the first Test against England, starting at Kingston's Sabina Park tomorrow week.
The feared and fearsome Ambrose, who has won more Test matches in his time than any other individual, is one of six fast bowlers of whom only four will take the field.
The scarcity of reserve talent means that 11 of those in the team thrashed in all three Tests in Pakistan late last year are retained. Jimmy Adams, the left-handed middle order batsman with a Test average of 57, returns after rehabilitation on the A tour of South Africa following a loss of confidence while the only newcomer is yet another fast bowler, Nixon McLean.
Ambrose's performances on the tour of Pakistan, from which a back injury forced his early return, and in the domestic President's Cup tournament over the past two weeks, have revealed a decline in the controlled hostility that has earned him 307 wickets in 74 Tests.
He spent the morning vehemently denying reports of his retirement in the local press, declaring: "I'm not done yet. Only Curtly Ambrose knows when to call it quits."
The moment might not be far off but he is ready for one last salvo at the old enemy, against whom he has claimed 117 wickets at under 20 runs each.
The team was announced with great fanfare at a press conference broadcast live around the Caribbean on radio and television. The chief selector, Wes Hall, said form in President's Cup matches and for the West Indies A team against England next weekend would likely determine the final composition of an attack that disregards the pretence of the inclusion of a spinner.
"We've got Courtney and Curtly who, it is fair to say, are in the twilight of their careers," said Brian Lara, the new captain. "We need a lot of young fast bowlers around to learn from them and our coach, Malcolm Marshall."
Two of the other fast bowlers, the deposed captain, Courtney Walsh, and Ian Bishop, are well known to England's batsmen through Test and county cricket. The other three - Franklyn Rose, Mervyn Dillon and McLean - are not. Rose and Dillon are less than a year into Test cricket and have only 12 matches between them, McLean is the only uncapped player included. While Ambrose is 34, Walsh 35 and Bishop 30, Rose is 26, Dillon 23 and McLean 24.
McLean's selection is easily sourced. He put Lara through an uncomfortable examination last weekend in Trinidad, striking him about the body before clean bowling him.
WEST INDIES SQUAD (for first Test v England, Kingston, starting 29 Jan): B C Lara (capt), S L Campbell, S C Williams, C L Hooper, S Chanderpaul, J C Adams, D Williams (wkt), I R Bishop, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, F A Rose, M Dillon, N A M McLean.