Cricket / Second Test: Ambrose joins 200 club

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AFTER Curtly Ambrose's leisurely first Test, in which his only wickets were Chris Lewis in each innings, Richie Richardson noted that his leading fast bowler had not yet warmed up.

It took him until well into the first day of this match to find the rhythm and the mood that have made him one of the contemporary game's most feared and effective bowlers. Richardson had been so concerned about his workload before the series that he advocated a rest in the domestic Red Stripe Cup. Within a few weeks, a disenchanted Ambrose was even hinting strongly of early retirement.

Neither complaint could be detected in his spells after tea on the opening day and at the start of the second that undermined England's heartening position. He quickly took care of Graeme Hick and the struggling Graham Thorpe on the first afternoon. When Mike Atherton remained to carry England's hopes of a sizeable total into the second day, he was back to remove him within the first half an hour.

His batsmen gave him ample restorative time by accumulating the sizeable West Indies lead and also created the type of pressure on the opposition Ambrose is so clinical at exploiting.

His dismissal of Atherton in his first over yesterday was the work of a great bowler. On a pitch whose most bothersome feature is an inclination to keep progressively low, Ambrose showed Atherton a bouncer second ball. Having forced him on to the back foot, he then bowled two fast deliveries of perfect length and line. Tentatively, the England captain played both from his crease, diverting the first off the inside edge into his pads, the second into his stumps.

It was Ambrose's 200th wicket in his 45th Test and a perfect example of why the beanpole Antiguan has enjoyed such success. Not only does he use his height to fullest advantage but his cricketing brain as well. He is quick to spot the weaknesses and exploit them, as he did with Hick in 1991.

He is the eighth West Indian to pass 200 wickets in Tests, joining an illustrious company. Malcolm Marshall is out in front with 376 and following him are Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Ambrose's current team-mate, Courtney Walsh. The others are Lance Gibbs, the long-fingered off-spinner, and Sir Gary Sobers.

If he is so inclined, Ambrose has it in him to pass them all, for Viv Richards nominated him as the strongest man he knows, both physically and mentally. The only question is how much longer he can be bothered bothering opposition batsmen.