Cricket: An eye on the main chance: Scyld Berry on why Allan Lamb's attack on the Pakistanis may not after all mark the end of his international career

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The Independent Online
OF ALL the bold innings Allan Lamb has played - whether for England or Northamptonshire - his present one may turn out to be the boldest.

With the controversy over Lamb and his allegation of ball-tampering dominating the past week, the remark has frequently been made that he has given himself no chance of playing against India this winter. On the contrary, there has to be a possibility that Lamb will yet play against India - not for England, but South Africa.

Amid the furore and all the legal wranglings - from which, we know, only the lawyers will benefit - one small clue has been overlooked. It may explain why Lamb decided to tell all to the Daily Mirror, without, it appears, any payment, and thus to be 'the hero who spoke the truth'. It may explain why he was prepared to jeopardise his England place for this winter's tour and thereafter.

In the qualifications for Test cricket laid down by the International Cricket Council there is one brief yet relevant paragraph. It reads: 'A cricketer, unless debarred by ICC, is always eligible to play for the country of his birth.'

A precedent has already been set for Lamb to follow, by Kepler Wessels. The left-handed South African batsman emigrated to Australia to play Test cricket, around the same time that Lamb made his England debut in 1982. When the Republic was readmitted to the ICC, there was Wessels in their side, the only member to have Test experience, and putting it to use as captain.

At Northampton, where Lamb is captain, the director of cricket is Mike Procter. Last Thursday it was announced that Procter had been appointed South Africa's team manager, and therefore would almost certainly not be returning to Northampton next season. All summer Procter has been saying of the 38-year-old Lamb, with justification: 'He has never batted better.'

In June Lamb must have read the signs, when he was not among the nine England players to be offered a winter contract and was dropped from the side after the second Test. If he had been guaranteed a Test place this winter and next summer, he would surely have stayed to contest the Ashes; as he has not been, he has made alternative arrangements, starting with a lucrative deal to return to his native Western Province.

Lamb is noted for his courage against fast bowling - six Test hundreds against West Indies - and for his 'get-up-and-go', which is not English, or at least not to be found in English county cricket. It is an expression of his vitality, and in itself not unattractive. But in getting up and going he has sometimes trodden on toes in his adopted country.

In the late Seventies Lamb would never have dreamt of representing England if South Africa had not been banned. He was allowed to do so by the TCCB, which had failed to tighten the loopholes which Tony Greig had exposed (the qualification period has subsequently been increased from four to seven years in cases such as Lamb's). His benefit was another example of getting up and going - to raise funds in counties a long way from Northamptonshire. But again the fault was as much with the people who have allowed him to get away with his ambition as with Lamb.

His latest step, in making his allegations against the Pakistani fast bowlers, will bring his career in England to a spectacular climax. To judge by the added applause which greeted him at Northampton when he batted on Friday, his outspokenness has gained him the popularity that he long sought as an England player, but which did not come his way even after some of his boldest innings, as in the 1987-88 World Cup against West Indies in Gujaranwala, or when taking 18 off the last over against Australia in 1986-87.

With his newspaper statement he has made himself the champion of England's Test players: the man prepared to risk all to tell the truth, and to hell with the consequences. But while he no doubt believed in what he said, this move would now enable him to leave England in good odour, as something of a martyr to his adopted country's cause. The sacrificial Lamb.

And so long as the TCCB's disciplinary committee does not add to Northamptonshire's two-match ban by suspending Lamb from next Saturday's NatWest Trophy final - and they would risk an outcry if he were - he should crown his four-year term as county captain with Northamptonshire's third-ever title. It would help him to win the toss and bowl first at Lord's, since the past six finals have been won by the side batting second; but even if he does not, he should have in Curtly Ambrose a bowler to upset Leicestershire's front-foot lungers.

The two finalists have as a common feature the most proletarian surroundings among our county grounds: the hoardings advertising Vimto and Craven A can only recently have been taken down from Grace Road and Wantage Road.

Before the war, both counties almost wallowed in their Midlands mediocrity. But now they pursue success, Leicestershire by good, thrifty housekeeping, Northamptonshire by throwing money at the problem, with Lamb thinking characteristically big.

It remains to be seen whether the energy Lamb has brought to his county will have long-term benefits. On the one hand, there has been considerable dissension in the ranks during his reign. On the other, the possibility that they might this season equal their highest championship place of second is a favourable indicator.

In September, the NatWest final. In November, South Africa play India in their first home series since 1970, probably with electronic eyes to help judge run-outs and stumpings. After 79 Tests for England there should be no problem in his finding a place in a middle-order which buckled in both innings against West Indies in April.

There is one catch, though. Under ICC regulations Lamb would have to obtain the consent of the TCCB if he were to play against his former country for South Africa, who will be touring England in 1994. But then, if he does make this move, it would not be like him if he did not charm and chivvy people into letting him have his way.

(Photograph omitted)