Fiery Ambrose turns up heat

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The Independent Online
EVERY time England get a creditable performance in the bank, they seem to squander it twice as quickly. Yesterday, having fought back to bowl out the West Indies for 282 and concede a lead of 83, England's batting stumbled, not for the first time in the match, allowing the West Indies bowlers to assume firm control.

Any hopes that England will be going to Lord's on an even footing will now rest largely with the weather, which, through a combination of bad light and drizzle, allowed only 22 minutes' play after tea. Two days remain and England are only 26 runs ahead, with six wickets standing, so the West Indies will not be rushing things now that their bowlers have returned to their old habits of taking wickets by forcing errors through sheer weight of numbers.

Before Ian Bishop's return to the team, the two premier West Indies fast bowlers, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, seemed to draw lots to see whose turn it was to release the handbrake and let the opposition know they were about. But with the giant Trinidadian restored to full fettle, albeit at a slightly reduced pace, both visibly upped a few gears as England's batsmen hopped and hooked and danced to a quicker beat.

Ambrose fairly tore in from the Kirkstall Lane End, forgoing his usual keyhole accuracy for extra pace and an early breakthrough. He has bowled without luck so far on this tour, but his dismissal of Robin Smith two balls before lunch saw a change in fortune for the Antiguan beanpole, as a wide long-hop, normally a bankable boundary for Smith's murderous square cut, found a lone Keith Arthurton at cover.

This early loss did not deter Mike Atherton from applying his recently found aggression, and he played several back-foot square drives off Walsh that aesthetes as well as Yorkshiremen would have admired. Unfortunately for England, their best batsman was undone by one that landed just outside off-stump as the same bowler tightened his line.

In the first innings, Atherton's departure was followed by the rest of the team mounting a lemming-like rush to the edge of the cliff, and another familiar tale of collapse seemed imminent when Graeme Hick followed his captain to the pavilion, top-edging a wild hook to long leg.

Hick, having been dropped on nought by Lara at first slip, carried on as he had done in the first innings, playing big bold shots as the West Indies pacemen tested his appetite for the short ball. Bishop in particular came in for some rasping stick, being regularly dispatched to the mid- wicket boundary until a high bouncer finally induced a mishit that found the grateful fingertips of Walsh down on the boundary.

If the experiment of opening with Robin Smith has had less than spectacular results, Alec Stewart's presence in the middle order has been a disaster. After one trademark on-drive for four, Stewart slashed at a wide one that bounced a fraction, and his second score for under five completed a miserable match for him with the bat. The West Indies rate Atherton and Stewart as England's two best batsmen, so their separation at the head of the order for this match must have boosted their confidence before a ball was bowled - a coup for selectorial crassness.

For once the normally cryptic pitch could not be blamed: its solidity and evenly-grassed appearance is the best the umpires have seen all season - the groundsman, Keith Boyce, can take much deserved credit - and England, through Thorpe and Ramprakash, went into the lead before the gloom descended for the evening.

The last five West Indian wickets, like England's in their first innings, fell for 46 runs. Against this opposition, and from the selections made for this match, Ray Illingworth obviously sees the inclusion of a bowler who can't bat as something of a luxury England can ill-afford. The West Indies bowlers, on the other hand, appear to believe that blocking even one ball an over constitutes an indulgence of gross selfishness, and their failure even pipped England's first-innings effort in the farce stakes.

Junior Murray was first to go, caught on the drive by Richard Illingworth off Phillip DeFreitas. DeFreitas had just had a hands-on-hip conversation, with his captain insisting that Illingworth be moved from square leg to a close position on the off side after Murray had chipped the previous ball in the air towards mid-off. Ball-following rarely pays dividends at village level, but DeFreitas, confident he had sussed out his man, pitched the next ball up and Murray obligingly holed out.

Keith Arthurton, who had fought hard for his 42, then chased a wide one, edging a smartly taken catch to Alec Stewart, before Bishop was run out moments later by the whole length of the pitch. Bishop, a polite, God- fearing man, could have been forgiven a moment of blasphemy for it was an easy single. Ambrose, using his bat as shooting stick, seemed too comfortable to move as he blithely watched Devon Malcolm's cumbersome pick-up and throw find Bishop stranded next to him.

Ambrose and Walsh then added a valuable 21 runs before Darren Gough's fourth ball, a disguised slower one, saw Walsh toe it into the swirling grey ether only to see Stewart complete a fine running catch over his left shoulder. It then became a hoik a ball, but Ambrose promptly miscued to find Gough at cover.

It was a far better bowling performance by England, closely watched this time by their bowling coach, Peter Lever, who curiously spent Friday at home as his charges furiously chased leather. A move not entirely convincing as England supposedly move towards a heightened professional approach, presumably just in time to mount a fightback for the fourth Test.

Stephen Brenkley, page 9