West Indies need Ambrose to find his fire

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The Independent Online
In the uncomfortable, if not unfamiliar, position of one down with two to play, the West Indies harbour mixed feelings over the appearance of a well-grassed pitch for the third Test against Australia which starts today.

Normally they would be salivating, and the opposition shaking at the knees, over the thought of their four fast bowlers creating mayhem and leading the usual recovery to maintain their record of not losing a Test series since 1980. The present realities temper such optimism.

While their batsmen have been dismissed by the varied Australian attacks for successive totals of 195 and 189 in their heavy defeat in three days in the first Test and 260 in the rainspoiled drawn second, their own bowling has not, to use the captain Richie Richardson's expression, "perked" as it so often does to compensate for such shortfalls.

If there is life and movement for the fast bowlers, as the greenery indicates, this is now likely to suit the probing Australian trio of Paul Reiffel, Glenn McGrath and the tall left-hander Brendon Julian as much as it will the West Indies.

Curtly Ambrose, around whose controlled hostility their bowling has been based for some time, is so incapacitated by a lingering shoulder injury that Richardson has conceded his value so far as being in his economy, rather than his strike rate.

"He's not bowling badly and he's still very economical," Richardson said. "It's just that he's not firing as he used to. It would be a bonus if he starts to perk in this match."

The unusual sight of grass on a West Indian pitch and the memories of his devastation of England's second innings for 46 on the same ground a year ago should be a tonic for Ambrose even more restorative than a hundred sessions of ultra-sound treatment. He has managed only three wickets in 54 overs in the previous Tests and his decline has given Australia an enormous psychological, as well as actual, advantage. Australian batsmen now have a peace of mind no others have enjoyed in Ambrose's seven years in Test cricket.

The last time the teams met in Australia - in 1992-93 - the West Indies were in the identical must-win situation with two Tests remaining and, principally through the inspiration of Ambrose's bowling, they won the last two to clinch the series 2-1. In seven other series since 1980 they have recovered from similar deficits to either win or draw level and the Australian captain, Mark Taylor, is understandably wary, in spite of the fact that his side has played the better and more consistent cricket.

"These guys know what it's like to be under this kind of pressure," he acknowledged. "They've been there and come out of it already. We've just got to keep on playing as well as we have and keep the pressure on them for the next five days."

If the Australians manage to do that, it is difficult to see the West Indies coming back yet again to salvage the remarkable record they have now maintained for 15 years. The match is a personal landmark for David Boon. It is his 100th Test, placing him in an lite group now numbering 15 who have appeared in as many. the only Australian to play more is his former captain, Allan Border, with 156. And none has been doughtier a fighter for his country than Boon.

Australia: M A Taylor (capt), M J Slater, D C Boon, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, G S Blewedd, I A Healy (wkt), B P Julian, P R Reiffel, S K Warne, G D McGrath.

West Indies: (from) R B Richardson (capt), SC Williams, B C Lara, J C Adams, C L Hooper, K L T Atherton, J R Murray (wkt), C E L Ambrose, W K M Benjamin, K C G Benjamin, C A Walsh, S Chanderpaul, R Dhanraj.