Allan Lamb © Getty Images
Allan Lamb © Getty Images

The aggressive Allan Lamb was born June 20, 1954. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the South Africa-born English cricketer who never hesitated to give it back to the opposition.

January 22, 1987. Sydney Cricket Ground.

It was Australia’s match. They had scored 233 for 8, and despite a spirited chase, England had lost their way after multiple strikes by Simon O’Donnell. With 18 runs to be scored off the last over, Allan Border through the ball to Bruce Reid, who had rather enviable figures of 9-3-26-1 till then.

Allan Lamb was on strike. Though he was known for his strokeplay, Lamb had ambled to 59 off 97 balls in the innings with a single boundary. It seemed unlikely that he would be able to pull off a heist against all odds. At the other end was Phil DeFreitas, not really a tail-ender, but hardly of any help under the current circumstances.

Reid, that lean skeleton of a bowler, ran in. The batsman, about a foot shorter than Reid, stepped out and played an inside-out stroke. DeFreitas hesitated, but Lamb called for the second run — and Dirk Wellham’s wild throw at the bowler’s end meant that DeFreitas got away attempting a second run. England had to score 16 from 5: Lamb had clearly no intention of giving it up.

Lamb hoicked the ball past square-leg for four. It was his second four of the innings, and England now needed 12 runs from 4 balls. They were still in the match. As long as Lamb was in there, and was on strike, there was still a glimmer of hope.

Reid made the cardinal sin of pitching the next ball up: Lamb’s eyes lit up; he put his left leg out of his way; those powerful forearms came into play; and the ball soared over deep mid-wicket for six! Surely England could pull off 6 from 3?

Lamb looked more confident as he took guard again. The shot was almost an encore of the first one: as the throw came in from Wellham at deep extra-cover, it had seemed that the batsmen had settled for a single. Lamb risked a second to be back on strike, and the nerves showed as Reid failed to gather the ball properly.

4 from 2 now. The next ball was pitched up as well, and Lamb flicked it through mid-wicket: he had placed it brilliantly, and the ball beat both the mid-wicket and a sprinting mid-wicket to the boundary. The ecstatic Lamb rushed back as Bill Lawry went ballistic in the Channel 9 commentary box, and a new record was set for the highest last-innings score in a chase (the 18 runs scored by Lamb has been equalled by only Brendan Taylor — where Taylor needed 17, was helped by a wide, and took up all 6 balls of Mashrafe Mortaza).

It was a remarkable finish — pulled off in a fashion that epitomised the character of the man. Reid was barracked by the Australians, and in the next ODI between the two sides at Adelaide Oval, a banner went up with the words “Can Bruce Reid please call Allan Lamb at 24624?”

Fire against fire

He was gutsy. He was destructive. He was belligerent. He never refrained from a retort. Allan Donald, playing for Warwickshire, gave him a torrid time, and sent down a couple of bouncers seeing Lamb committed on the front-foot. Donald had a go at Lamb: “Lambie, if you want to drive, go hire a car.”

The inimitable Lamb was ready for the next ball that Donald pitched up. As he creamed the ball to the cover boundary, Lamb replied back: “Go park that one”.

It takes guts to mess with Donald’s temper at his prime. Guts, however, was one thing that Lamb never lacked — especially against quality fast bowling. Robin Jackman, a seasoned fast bowler himself, called Lamb ‘a fine player of the quicks’. He scored 6 of his 14 Test hundreds against West Indies at their prime. At the time of his retirement, Lamb was behind only Sunil Gavaskar in terms of hundreds against West Indies. Three of these hundreds came in the astonishing season of 1984.

The year 1984 was special: West Indies ‘blackwashed’ England 5-0 in England, but and yet one man stood unflinchingly amidst the ruins against Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, and Michael Holding. After England lost the first Test at Edgbaston, Lamb scored 110 at Lord’s to set up 342 — before Gordon Greenidge pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime innings happened.

He scored a round 100 in the next Test at Headingley, but West Indies won quite comfortably, yet again. In the fourth Test at Old Trafford, Lamb scored a counterattacking 100 not out off only 185 balls, but West Indies won by an innings. In all, Lamb had scored 386 runs at 42.88 with 3 hundreds, but still ended up at the receiving end of a humiliating series.

He wasn’t done for the series, though. Sri Lanka visited England for a one-off Test that season (and batted so well that Ian Botham was reduced to bowl off-breaks), and once again Lamb top-scored with 107 —scoring his fourth Test hundred of the English season. He became the fourth player to do so, after Herbert Sutcliffe (1929), Don Bradman (1930), and Denis Compton (1947). Four other people have achieved the feat since, but what stands out is the fact that despite his four hundreds, Lamb averaged below 50, never got past 110, and scored only 493 runs.

Career

With a diminutive yet stocky frame and fire in his belly, Lamb was gifted with three major attributes: a near-perfect technique, very powerful forearms, and an incredible sense of timing the ball. Though his numbers were not great (critics have often attributed it to his lofty strokes — probably a product of a powerful bottom-hand), he always stood out as a character who would take the attack to the most fearsome of oppositions at their prime. He also stood out as a singular character — very non-British in nature — sticking to his aggression and accent till the last day of his career.

His mindset was the antithesis of the classical British: “I am not a defensive player. My main objective at all times is to score runs, and to look for runs off every ball. I believe that as you are likely to get a good ball sooner or later it is pointless to wait for it with a passive outlook.”

Lamb played 79 Tests, scoring 4,656 runs at a not-too-impressive 36.09 with 14 hundreds. His ODI numbers were superior — 4,010 runs with 4 hundreds from 122 matches at 39.31 and a strike rate of 75.5. He also scored 32,502 First-Class runs at 49 with 89 hundreds, mostly for Northamptonshire — his second home — one that writer Lawrence Booth went on to call a ‘deeply unfashionable choice’ for Lamb.

Never one for big scores, Lamb never went past 142 in a Test innings. This remains the lowest among the career-best scores for any batsman with 14 or more hundreds, and if we lower the bar to 10 innings Mohinder Amarnath with 138 is the only one who has ‘outdone’ him. Among specialist batsmen with 10 or more hundreds, his average is the second-lowest, just ahead of Mike Gatting.

Early days

Lamb was born in Langebaanweg in South Africa; he was 16 when his country was banned from all international sport. He made his First-Class debut against Eastern Province in 1972-73, and scored his first hundred against Rhodesia (top-scoring with 109) in 1976-77.

Desperate to take up cricket as a career, Lamb landed in England along with fellow South Africans Peter Kirsten and Garth le Roux in 1977. A contract was difficult to come by, though: to quote Wisden, they “fished in several waters.”

Lamb returned to South Africa. Then, as several players (Bishan Bedi and Mushtaq Mohammad, for example) retired almost simultaneously from Northamptonshire, there was a sudden shortage of players. As Wisden states, “over Christmas Roy Barker, a member of the Northamptonshire committee on a business visit to South Africa, appeared like Santa himself with a contract for Lamb.”

The year 1978 was a torrid first season. Though Lamb scored 883 runs at 46.47 with 2 hundreds, Northamptonshire finished last in the Championship in their centenary year. He came into his elements from the next season, though: in the next three seasons (1978 to 1980), Lamb’s numbers read 1,747 at 67 with 4 hundreds, 1,797 at 67 with 5 hundreds, and 2,049 at 60 with 5 hundreds.

Additionally, he won the Gold Cup for his 72 in the Benson and Hedges final against Essex, after which he stated “I thrive before a large crowd. It excites and challenges me, and Lord’s is the perfect setting.” He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1981 — just after he was named the South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year the previous year — an honour he would go on to reclaim in 1988.

On a lighter note, Lamb was caught by Alan Kourie off Clive Rice in the Datsun Shield final of 1979-80 against — which is the answer to a common quiz question: When was did the entry ‘Lamb c Curry (Kourie) b Rice’ appear on a scorecard?

It was during this period that Ken Turner, the Northamptonshire secretary, explained to him that he did not have a realistic chance to make it to the top level for South Africa. Lamb decided to take advantage of the fact that his parents were English-born, and was eligible to make his Test debut in 1982.

Test cricket

Lamb made his Test debut against India at Lord’s, and scored his maiden Test hundred in the same series at The Oval: he was run out after a 202-ball 107, and added 176 with Botham — who blazed his way to a career-best 208 — for the fourth wicket. He scored 99 on the same venue in his second ODI — also against India — and followed it with his maiden ODI hundred in the next match.

This was the innings that made the critics around the world take notice of Lamb. After Pakistan had scored a formidable 250 for 6, Lamb, coming out at No. 3, smashed a bowling attack comprising of Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Sikander Bakht, and Iqbal Qasim to score a 121-ball 118 — more than twice anybody else had scored in the match. England won with 47 balls to spare. Lamb had arrived.

Allan Lamb at Lord's during the 2nd Test against the West Indies in July 1984 © Getty Images
Allan Lamb at Lord’s during the second Test against West Indies in 1984 © Getty Images

The middle years

Lamb eased into a middle-order slot in the English batting line-up — mostly batting at No. 4 between David Gower and Mike Gatting. The 1984 season was definitely the pinnacle of his Test career, but his brilliance showed more often in the shorter format of the sport.

Some of them were dominant ones, like his 106-ball 108 not out against New Zealand at SCG in 1982-83 — scored out of a lopsided 190-run unbeaten partnership with Chris Tavaré — whose style was the perfect antithesis to Lamb’s. Eye-witnesses have testified that a more singular partnership has seldom been seen.

On the other hand there were cameos: in a rain-affected 15-over match at Chandigarh in 1984-85 Lamb blasted his way to a 19-ball 33 not out to lift England to 121 — and win marginally; the outrageous 69-ball 81 where he stood amidst the ruins as the Pakistani fast bowlers routed England for 146 at MCG later that season; a bludgeoning 39-ball 55 not out against the West Indian fast bowlers on a bouncy pitch at Kensington Oval in 1990; the famous last over against Reid, as mentioned above, and the World Cup match that he pulled off single-handedly against the mighty West Indians at Gujranwala.

The Gujranwala match

West Indies were on their way to victory in the Gujranwala match. They had scored 243 for 7, and all was well as England had collapsed to 131 for 6. He cut Courtney Walsh fiercely for four and followed by pulling him for six. John Emburey contributed with 22 and DeFreitas with 23, but with at 209 for 8 after 47 overs, the match was surely as good as over?

Lamb was not one to give up, though: with 35 to score from 3 overs, Lamb reached his fifty with a ferocious square-cut off Walsh; Neil Foster ran frantically to convert the ones into twos; and a couple more boundaries fetched 16 from the 48th over, leaving 19 from the last 2 overs.

Once again, Lamb and Foster scampered through for singles and a brace, and Patrick Patterson’s over went for only 6. Lamb would face Walsh — with 13 to score off the final over.

A wild swing, and the ball reached deep mid-wicket — resulting in a couple: 11 to score from 5 balls now. There were few men who could pull it off against Walsh, but fortunately for England, one of them was on strike.

Walsh attempted a yorker, and Lamb, to quote the commentator, ‘waltzed outside the leg-stump’ and hit Walsh past third-man — intentionally — for another four. Walsh attempted another yorker as Lamb moved outside the leg-stump; Walsh followed him, and the ball raced past Jeff Dujon for four wides.

With 3 to score from 4 balls, Walsh, by now reduced to a bundle of nerves, bowled a no-ball, and Lamb scampered for a single. Foster drove one past point to pull off the victory. Lamb earned accolades from the opposition captain Viv Richards — a man who had always found Lamb a flesh in his thorn despite West Indies steamrolling England on a consistent basis. From 8-0-34-1 Walsh’s figures were reduced to 9.3-0-65-1.

Later hundreds

One of Lamb’s finest innings came against West Indies at Lord’s in 1988. After the first Test at Trent Bridge was drawn Marshall had blown away England in the second Test (he ended with ten for 92 from the match), but as England were chasing 442, Lamb walked out at 31 for 3 and, once again, stood between West Indies and a Test victory.

Lamb played one of his finest innings, scoring 113 off 212 with 15 fours. For once, Marshall, Patterson, Walsh, and Curtly Ambrose were tamed. It was his first Test hundred (he also brought it up on his 34th birthday) since that 1984 season, and it was only a direct hit from Carl Hooper that could end his innings. England added 53 for the last wicket, but could not save the defeat. The tone was set, and West Indies thrashed England 4-0 in the 5-Test series.

He scored his first — and only —Ashes hundred the following year. Up against an unexpectedly strong Australian outfit, Lamb scored 125 with 24 boundaries in characteristic style at Headingley. Australia ended up winning the Test by a mile, and reclaimed the Ashes with a 4-0 victory to begin their famous 16-year run. Lamb did not play another Test in the series.

Allan Lamb is applauded after his century in the 4th Test match against the West Indies at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, in March 1990 © Getty Images
Allan Lamb is applauded after his century against West Indies at Kensington Oval in 1990 © Getty Images

Lamb, with not a single Test hundred on West Indian soil under his belt, toured the Caribbean in 1989-90 as vice-captain. In the first Test at Sabina Park (Lamb’s first after Headingley), Lamb pulled off a miracle: after Angus Fraser bowled out West Indies for an unexpected 164, Lamb took on Marshall, Patterson, Walsh, and Ian Bishop by their horns, and clobbered his way to a 205-ball 132. England secured a 200-run lead, and Gladstone Small and Devon Malcolm bowled out the hosts to pull off a stunning victory.

Captain of England, and final days

Graham Gooch had pulled out after the first 3 Tests, and Lamb was appointed as captain in the last two. England took field at Kensington Oval 1-0 ahead in the series, and despite Lamb’s 119 on his debut as a Test captain West Indies squared the series thanks to Ambrose’s career-best 8 for 45. He scored 37 and 35 in the fifth Test at St John’s, but this time England were wrecked by Bishop and the series was conceded.

Lamb came back strongly against India, scoring 139 at Lord’s and 109 at Old Trafford. He led England for one final time in Gooch’s absence in the Ashes Test at Brisbane — and lost heavily yet again; he, thus, ended up losing all 3  Tests he had led England in.

He shone for one final time with a typically robust 230-ball 142 — his highest Test score — with 19 fours and 2 sixes to save a Test at Wellington. His career, however, came to a rapid end after his failure in the first 2 Tests against Pakistan at home in 1992.

Controversies

Pakistan had clinched Lamb’s final series 2-1, mostly due to some spectacular display of reverse-swing by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. On the fourth afternoon of the third Test at Old Trafford, though — something undesirable happened.

The relationship between the sides had already taken a beating: Aaqib Javed was accused of tampering the ball (and was fined 50 per cent of his match fee for showing dissent in the Old Trafford Test), and so were Wasim and Waqar. However, the two team-managements had still managed to put a lid on the situation.

Hell broke loose when Lamb gave an interview during the fourth ODI at Lord’s, mentioning that the umpires — Ken Palmer and John Hampshire — had changed the ball during the England innings despite Lamb’s alerts with the score on 140 for 5. After the change, the ball began to do ‘unusual things’ and England collapsed to 201 from 191 for 6, losing the match by 3 runs. Lamb added: “I’ve blown the whistle on Pakistan’s ball-tampering because they’ve been getting away with murder all summer. No one has been brave or honest enough to finger them until now.”

Hell broke loose after the public statement. The media pounced upon the matter with the obvious intention of getting to the crux of the incident. The two boards ended up issuing statements — often contradictory – over the next few days resulting in a pandemonium, with nobody having the slightest idea regarding what was true. Colin Bateman wrote in Daily Express that it was ‘either a mammoth cover-up or a mammoth mistake’.

Lamb was not given a chance to testify, and was fined £2,000 immediately in addition to a 2-match ban on Northamptonshire. As the outcome of a further disciplinary hearing TCCB fined Lamb an additional £5,000 along with a cost of £1,000 — one of the highest in the history of English cricket — for speaking out against his contract. The fine was later reduced to £4,000 (with a £500 cost).

In end-1993 Lamb ran into trouble again. Sarfraz had filed a lawsuit against Lamb on the grounds that “more than 20 years ago Nawaz invented an illegal trick to make cricket balls swing wide and late, deceiving batsmen, a technique refined by his successors into widespread cheating by the international team last summer”, as Stephen Ward wrote on The Independent. The article in question had been published on Daily Mirror, and carried the outrageous headline “How Pakistan Cheat at Cricket”.

Sarfraz later withdrew the lawsuit, citing “there were nine young girls on the jury who did not know the difference between a football and a cricket ball” as a reason.

In 1996 Botham and Lamb sued Imran over comments the latter had made in two articles over the ball-tampering issue. Imran defended the case successfully by 10-2 jury margin, and the judge dismissed it as a ‘complete exercise in futility’.

Allan Lamb (centre) leaves court on July 16, 1996 with wife Lindsay (left) and Kathy Botham during the libel case in the High Court between Ian Botham and Imran Khan © Getty Images
Allan Lamb (centre) leaves court on July 16, 1996 with wife Lindsay (left) and Kathy Botham during the libel case in the High Court between Ian Botham and Imran Khan © Getty Images

The final seasons

Lamb got to lead Northamptonshire in since 1989; in 1995 — his final season — and almost carried them to their maiden Championship title. At one stage Northamptonshire seemed favourites, but eventually Warwickshire went past them, and in the final stages of the Championship, so did Middlesex. Warwickshire also defeated Northamptonshire in the final of the NatWest Trophy that season.

With all to play for, Lamb was ostentatiously animated on the field — “strutting round the county grounds like Napoleon”, to quote Matthew Engel. Wisden praised his style of leadership as “a blend of confidence, arrogance, enterprise and sheer willpower”.

With Anil Kumble as ally (who topped the Championship charts with 105 wickets), Lamb led Northamptonshire to 12 victories in 17 matches. Lamb himself scored 1,237 runs at 56 with 4 hundreds, and easily topped the Northants charts even at 41 before bowling out.

Two particular declarations, opposite in nature, stand out. After Somerset had scored 346 in 1994 Lamb decided to risk it and declare at 71 for 1 after a discussion with the Somerset captain Andy Hayhurst. Somerset declared at 25 without loss, and Northamptonshire went on to win the match by 2 wickets.

Lamb did the complete antithesis of this the next season: after Nottinghamshire piled up 527, Lamb, with his faith on Kumble, refused to declare the innings until his side blasted their way to 781 for 7. Kumble remained true to Lamb’s faith and routed the tourists with 5 for 43 well inside a day.

Later years

Lamb joined Sky Sports and Channel 5 as a television analyst post-retirement. His autobiography was, almost predictably, called Silence of the Lamb. Northamptonshire named a room in their Indoor Cricket Centre after Lamb in 2001. The Club Chairman Simon Schanschieff honoured him with the words “He is one of the greatest players ever to represent the club, a former England captain, and a man instantly recognised throughout the cricketing world” during the inauguration.

EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive) later signed up Botham and Lamb for a series of commercials to promote Quality Standard Beef and Lamb. Their cartoon doppelgangers Beefy (Botham’s nickname) and Lamby were used as the characters of the commercials.

 

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)