Allan Lamb, The Man, The ODI Pace That England, Finally, Prisoner > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Allan Lamb, the man who set the ODI pace that England have finally caught on to

"I always looked at playing positively, maybe at times that was my downfall."

"Why England have become so good is because they've taken the "F" word away from their players." Before you get any ideas, the f-word Allan Lamb refers to here is "failure". Though he compares the present culture around England's one-day cricket to what persisted during his era without a slightest tinge of envy, you feel there deserves to be some. For, Lamb got ODI cricket before anyone else did in England. If anything, he was so far ahead of English cricket when it came to the 50-over format, and that it's taken English cricket nearly two decades after Lamb hung up his boots to catch up with him and the rest of the world.

"Maybe I played a bit too positively than some others," he says before bursting out laughing and then adding, "I always looked at playing positively, maybe at times that was my downfall. We always played back then never knowing that you would be picked for the next game. We always felt like we weren't entitled to be picked every day."

And when Lamb says he believed the best way to get out of any situation was to attack, you better believe him. That summed up his batting style. Long before strike-rates came into vogue in ODI cricket, and despite the dominance of the West Indians, it was Lamb who was setting the pace in the limited-overs format. While all four of his centuries were scored at strike-rates in the high 90s - except the 108 he scored off 106 balls against the Kiwis at the MCG in early 1983 - only four out of the 30 times he went past 50 did the right-hander score at a rate less than 70 per 100 balls. Around 70 per cent of his 50-plus scores came at just under a run a ball, this, at a time when batting in one-day cricket, especially around England, was still centred on survival and a cynical resistance to change.

According to Lamb, who averaged 39.31 in 122 ODIs, the reason England have finally, after so long, adopted the much-needed aggressive brand of cricket is due to the "confidence of someone coming to you and saying, 'don't worry, you're playing in every game even if you get out playing a shot'.

"That's why they play like they have a licence to kill. It's about that confidence of knowing they don't have to worry if they get out. If they do, they know they have someone saying, 'we know what you're trying to do, but carry on playing that way'. So those players playing now just go and play their shots. I haven't seen an attacking batting line-up like this in a long time," he says.

"In our time, the captain had no say. It was only the selectors. If I as captain asked someone to go play his natural game, and he got out, I would have been in trouble."

***

We meet Lamb in his plush office on a busy intersection of one of the narrow main roads in Northampton. The 64-year-old is hobbling around with only one shoe on. A red bandage covers a few toes on his left foot and he insists on them not being long-term scars of his multiple encounters with Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, and that they've been stubbed against a door.

The main office room carries various memorabilia and posters of the South African-born Northamptonshire legend and his cricket career, while a smaller room with a long cushioned sofa acts as the conference room, and has done so since 1998.

Apart from providing corporate hospitality at various cricketing venues around the country, including during the World Cup, Lamb Associates also organize global tours to major sporting events, including cricket, rugby and golf. And Lamb himself accompanies the touring parties on occasions, like he did to India in late 2016 for two Tests.

Back when he was touring the world as an England cricketer, as it turns out, it wasn't only with bat in hand that he used to have a craving for adventure. It wasn't always fishing in Australia or shooting partridges in Pakistan.

He recalls the time a few of his teammates went shopping for carpets while in Peshawar during the 1987 World Cup, and ended up unintentionally crossing the border into Afghanistan.

"We should have never gone. One of the guys there who looked a bit like Omar Sharif with a bushy moustache said he had a brother who would help us get carpets, so we all went across the border. It was only afterwards we found out that everyone there was on bicycles with guns there."

On another occasion during the 1990-91 tour of Australia, Lamb took Robin Smith and a teammate for fishing to the Rottnest Island near Perth and had to take an interesting detour through a field to make sure he didn't miss a team meeting.

"We had gone out on a boat and we were late and I was vice-captain. The only way out because of the traffic was I had to cut across this big field in Perth and I drove straight across. If we did that now, we would be locked up. We made it just in time for the meeting. It was before the Test match was going to start. We would practice in the morning before a Test and set off in the afternoon."

***

Lamb's pathway to international cricket had itself come about courtesy a detour after he had to leave his home in Johannesburg owing to South Africa's apartheid-driven sporting ban. As a teenager, he'd played for Western Province but could move his base owing to his parents having been born in England. Despite making an immediate impact for Northamptonshire upon moving here in 1978, it took Lamb four years to qualify for selection to the England squad. And he flashes a polite smile when you relate his scenario to that of the Barbados-born Jofra Archer's promotion to the national ranks in recent times.

"They were pushing the boat and changing regulations quickly. Listen it doesn't bother me. I was just lucky enough that my parents were born here and because of the apartheid system I couldn't play there. Some years ago they didn't think Jofra Archer was strong enough to be a quick bowler, but looks like he's quite rapid now," he says.

Lamb, however, is concerned about the South African team, which has now lost three matches on the trot in the World Cup, and the impact of the political nature of the selection that's affecting their cricket.

"What troubles me is when I see you can't get to play for the country of your birth despite being eligible to do so. If South Africa was playing international cricket I wouldn't have come to England. Tony Greig was the first to come in my era, but the reason he came was he wasn't good enough to get into that South African side. That's how good SA was. South Africa is such a poor side now. They have 5-6 players playing county cricket now that they could have done with."

Lamb also reminisces about how well he got to know many of the greats during his era through playing with and against them in county cricket, right till his final season for Northamptonshire in 1995, when he took a young legspinner with a fledgling reputation from India under his wings. Anil Kumble would go on to finish as one of Test cricket's highest wicket-takers. But back in 1995, he was still a bespectacled enigma who ended up taking 105 wickets in that season, a feat that no bowler from the county has since replicated.

"I went to Azhar and Sunil and said I need a good spinner, and they said what about Kumble. I said but he doesn't turn it. They said that's why you have to take him. They said everyone will play for the spin with the ball that goes straight. They said make sure you have a good short-leg and a silly point. When he first came here, it was freezing cold. He played in a Sunday League game and he disappeared for 50 or 60 runs. The chairman of the club was fuming and said have we made the right decision. The next game we played in Kent, and I went to Marks n Spencers and bought one of those winter warmers that you wear like pyjamas, and I said you put this on and keep it, and keep bowling. He was brilliant," says Lamb while gushing about having met his former teammate in London on the opening day of the World Cup.

***

Winning the Ashes at home in 1985 and then in Australia over the summer of 1986-87 stand out as the pinnacle of Lamb's cricketing achievements. Not surprisingly for someone who somehow held his own against the might of the West Indian pace battery, scoring 6 Test centuries against them, he also rates the one Test win over them in Jamaica as a much-treasured feat. In addition to his impressive ODI numbers, there's also the famous last-over win, where he smashed 18 off Bruce Reid's bowling. "I hadn't played well at all throughout the innings. I hadn't hit a boundary. So I walked up to (Phillip) DeFreitas and said, give me your bat, my bat's no good. But it was the exact same bat, a Slazenger bat, and as we realized there was nothing wrong with it."

But ask him about which World Cup final hurts more, and he says, "they all do" while shaking his head.

"We lost to India in 1983, when we were cruising when Gatt (Mike Gatting) bloody played one around the corner and there was a suicidal run-out. And then 1987, Gatt played that reverse sweep and we were sort of winning that." The 1992 final at the MCG will always be remembered for Akram's consecutive deliveries from around the wicket that knocked out Lamb and Chris Lewis. But he recalls how that defeat hurt the most as his dismissal came at a time England were just getting on top of things as he forged a stand with Neil Fairbrother.

"He came around the wicket and it was a fairly good delivery, good enough for me anyway. I'd faced him a ton of times before. It just sort of came in a little bit and then straightened out. It was a pity. We had played really good cricket throughout and then we were just getting back on top of them. That was quite tough but you can't bring the past back."

In the here and now though, Lamb feels England's new-found sense of freedom and the "licence to kill" provided to their batsmen makes this their "best chance to win", and perhaps a chance for him to experience that glory vicariously through them.

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