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Ambrose ready for the limelight

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ambroseFebruary was a quiet month for Tim Ambrose, which is strange when you consider he was in the throes of his first senior England tour. But now that the calendar has clicked round to March, there’s no hiding from the limelight any longer. After running the drinks as Phil Mustard’s understudy throughout the one-day series, Ambrose is at last ready to take centre stage. On Wednesday, he becomes England’s latest wicketkeeper and No. 7 batsman, as the first Test against New Zealand gets underway in Hamilton.

Wicketkeepers are, as a rule of thumb, a highly-strung fraternity, but to judge from his outward appearance, Ambrose bucks that particular trend. During England’s final warm-up in the Antarctic chill of Dunedin, he was quietly confident in all that he did, easing five fours in an attractive 33, and holding onto four fuss-free catches behind the stumps. The only taut strings that Ambrose displays are those of his travelling companion, his trusty guitar, an instrument he’s been playing since the age of 14.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” said Ambrose, as England checked into their Hamilton hotel with three days to go until his Test debut. “I haven’t felt too many nerves so far, but I’m generally excited and looking forward to getting a chance. My game is in good order. Dunedin was a good opportunity to get some rust out and I’m very pleased with the way I’m catching.”

There are few roles in international cricket that come with as many caveats as that of the England wicketkeeper. Ever since the retirement of Alec Stewart, that No. 7 position has been a merry-go-round of the tried, tested, and discarded. James Foster, Geraint Jones, Paul Nixon and Chris Read are among the players to have been chewed over and spat out, and then of course there’s the most recent incumbent, Matt Prior, a man to whom Ambrose needs no introduction. The pair sparred over the gauntlets at Sussex for five seasons from 2001, until Ambrose eventually bit the bullet and moved to Warwickshire, the battle for supremacy seemingly won and lost.

Not so, it turns out. Prior impressed intermittently with his pugnacious batting, and averaged over 40 for his first year of Test cricket, but it was as a gloveman that he was found wanting. Three ugly fumbles during the must-win Galle Test in December meant that his shortcomings could no longer be overlooked, and he was axed so unceremoniously at the beginning of the year that the England selectors couldn’t even locate him to let him down gently.

Ambrose may have been the beneficiary, but there were no hard feelings from his friend and rival. “I’ve spoken to Matt a couple of times since we got here,” said Ambrose. “He sent a text before we left, and he was very supportive because he’s a good friend. But as cricketers me and him are very different. We’ve learned things from each other, but I know how I play and I’ll focus more on what I can do and what I’ll bring to the side.”

Part of the reason for the high turnover among English wicketkeepers has been the freakish genius of Adam Gilchrist, whose career has entered its final week with the culmination of Australia’s CB Series campaign. Suddenly every pretender to the role has to average nearly 50 while clinging onto all edges that fly their way, but Ambrose didn’t see his influence as a negative one.

“I would never say he’s been detrimental, he’s been inspirational,” said Ambrose. “He’s raised the bar and it’s great to have someone at that level to aim for. There’s no reason why people can’t try to achieve what he’s done in the past. He’s an exceptional performer, and he’s been brilliant for the game and for that skill as well, but there’s nothing wrong with aiming high and trying to achieve those sorts of things.”

Now however, there’s a more immediate distraction as Ambrose embarks on his international career. In Brendon McCullum, New Zealand have unearthed the nearest thing to a Gilchrist clone - as confirmed at the recent IPL auction in Mumbai where Kolkata splashed out a cool US$700,000. In Sunday’s State Shield final in Auckland, McCullum smashed Otago to their first victory in 20 years with an incredible innings of 170 from 108 balls.

The innings was being shown in the foyer while Ambrose was waiting to speak to the media, but if he was daunted by the match-up, he didn’t show it. “He’s played very well, and is striking the ball very well, so I’ll be watching him to learn as I have done for the last month,” said Ambrose. “But my game is based on a very simple technique because there is less that can go wrong that way, my keeping in particular, and it seems to suit me.”

Wednesday promises to be a special occasion in more ways than one for Ambrose. If an impending debut is not enough emotion to be dealing with, he’s got a long-overdue family reunion in prospect as well. He was just 17 when he first came to England in the summer of 2000 in search of broader horizons, and ever since then his cricketing duties have denied him many opportunities to get back to his native Sydney. This week, however, his parents, Ray and Sally, are due to fly across the Tasman to witness his big moment.

“Dad was over for a month last year, but I’ve not seen my mum for a few years so it’ll be good to catch up,” said Ambrose, “though she’ll probably be hiding out the back because she’s not a good watcher. But the whole occasion will mean a great deal. I was talking to Stuart Broad last night, and he was telling me about his debut in Colombo. It sent shivers up my spine, as it was a very proud moment. I’m sure I’ll feel the same.”

Source:Cricket News

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