Short but sweet Ambrose

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The Independent Online

Some of his essential joints and muscles may be reacting at last to the wear and tear of seven years of cricket the world over, but Curtly Ambrose has lost none of the craftiness that has made him one of the game's most respected fast bowlers.

As he has done so frequently in the past, the elongated Antiguan altered the course of England's innings, if not yet the match, with his telling spell at the tail-end of the opening day of the sixth and final Test at The Oval yesterday.

It was nothing to compare with the sheer devastation with which he has dramatically wrecked other opponents in the past and, in the space of a couple of hours, decided the outcome of matches. This one, all the same, reduced England from the promise of 185 for 3 when he was introduced after tea to a faltering 217 for 5 when he was finished.

As a concession to a pitch, if not as slow as that at Trent Bridge which injury obliged him to miss, certainly offered little to the bowlers - and possibly to the lingering discomfort of a sore back and unreliable shoulder - Ambrose shortened his run.

In my experience, it was the first time he had ever made such a concession in the heat of Test battle and, without noticeable reduction in speed and certainly none in control, he halted England's advance with the wickets of the dangerous Graham Thorpe and Alan Wells with successive balls during seven mean overs that cost a mere five runs.

Perhaps now that he is 32, this is the Ambrose we will see more of in the future. He alone did not cut off England's run supply, though. Carl Hooper was a vital accomplice.

There are those who wonder how Hooper can continue to command a place in the team with a batting average of 30 and a bowling average in excess of 50. His steady off-spin yesterday, which relieved the fast bowlers and provided a necessary variety, provided part of the answer.