Circket: Lamb and the missing writ: Northamptonshire's captain is on a sticky wicket as the row over ball-tampering continues. Derek Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
Allan Lamb - a brilliant, aggressive batsman on all but soft pitches, improving captain and tactician, Northampton folk hero, a small man of infinite courage and resource - managed to belittle an illustrious moment in the county's history at Lord's on Saturday with a petty subterfuge that ensures that this NatWest year will be remembered as the Missing Writ Final.

During the afternoon, as Leicestershire struggled to build on their forlorn hope - the stand between James Whitaker and Phil Robinson - Sarfraz Nawaz, the former Pakistan and Northampton seam bowler, announced that he had issued a writ against Lamb, alleging libel in Lamb's now renowned attack on ball-tampering, principally aimed at Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, in the Daily Mirror.

Lamb had already been fined and suspended by Northamptonshire for his breach of contract in making such public comment without first seeking the club's or the Test and County Cricket Borad's permission. The Board has still to consider the case.

The scene now moves on to 6.45pm where, in the twilight, a small group of Northamptonshire stalwarts are still celebrating an eight-wicket victory, rightly so. Up in the pavilion restaurant the post- match press conference has been called where Ken Lawrence, the Board's media relations manager, ushers in Lamb, Northamptonshire's director of cricket, Mike Procter, and the man of the match, Alan Fordham.

Lamb is sharp, bright and cocky, perhaps expressing a defensive confidence at what he knows must come. The early questions are predictable enough. 'It was a fantastic team effort,' he says. 'I said I hoped to win some silverware in four years as captain and we've done it.'

It is the Press Association man, David Lloyd, who strikes: 'Can you confirm that you have received a writ today from Sarfraz Nawaz alleging libel?' Lamb looks blank: 'I know nothing about a writ. I have not received one.'

Enter Procter, soon to be South Africa's manager and intent upon a damage-limitation exercise: 'No writ has been received. I was told that Lamby would be issued with a writ as he went in to bat. Naturally I didn't want him to know anything about that so Bob Carter (the county coach) and I took him down the steps and escorted him through the Long Room.'

Back to Lamb, this time definitely on the defensive: 'Everybody gets writs, don't they?'

The matter apparently settled, Lamb and the admirable Fordham were allowed to talk about the match, the complications arising immediately afterwards when one Sunday reporter insisted that he had seen Lamb handed a letter by Sarfraz's solicitor before play began.

By then the Northamptonshire dressing room was locked. Only genuine celebrators were to be admitted. The world had to be shut out. Eventually an admission was won that Lamb had received an envelope but had thrown it away, presumably unopened.

Northamptonshire have still to decide on their captain for next season, the appointment being made on a yearly basis. The view has been that much as the committeee might like to appoint Rob Bailey, it also felt that Lamb, having led the side for four years, would be difficult to return to the ranks.

After this charade, however, the county would seem to have no choice but to replace Lamb. Northamptonshire are now one of England's leading clubs and surely cannot afford to appear buffoons.

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