Cricket: Lambert can no longer be ignored

IT HAS been a long wait for Clayton Lambert. Regarded by a succession of selectors as too crude for Test cricket, the heavy-set left-hander with the crab-like stance had despaired of ever getting another chance to represent the West Indies. In spite of an imposing regional record and a fruitless search for openers to replace Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Lambert had been ignored after a solitary Test against England in 1991. Frustrated, he went into voluntary exile, making his runs in the Durham League in the summer and, for three winters, for Northern Transvaal in South Africa.

When he finally returned home in 1996, the West Indies were no nearer solving their problem at the top of the order. As one candidate after another was tried and found wanting, Lambert continued accumulating consistent scores for Guyana.

As was the case in 1991, when he was summoned from the league after the chosen opener Phil Simmons was so badly injured he had to withdraw, Lambert's belated recall has again come by default. The continuing failure of Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams to provide prosperous beginnings finally led the selectors to desperate measures and, aged 36, Lambert was reinstated.

He and the other recycled opener, Philo Wallace, have given new life to the shaky West Indies batting with their swashbuckling approach. Lambert is nothing if not determined. There is a lot clearly wrong with his technique - his ungainly stance at the crease for starters. But he is comfortable with it, acknowledges his limitations and tries little that he knows to be beyond him. He simply waits on the back foot for anything short and wide and hammers it with the muscular power of his shoulders and forearms.

His capacity for converting flying starts into big scores has long since been established in the West Indies. He was far from his best in compiling his maiden Test 100, surviving four chances to the greasy fingered England fielders and finding himself occasionally bogged down. But he never lost focus.

That his partners, first Wallace and then Brian Lara, were in such commanding form eased much of the pressure for him. The West Indies were after quick runs and, had they not been coming at the opposite end Lambert would have had to be more positive in his approach.