Cricket / NatWest Trophy Semi-Finals: Lamb plays role of the strongman: Northants poised for Lord's as Essex fight to justify favouritism

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Warwickshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . .149

Northamptonshire . . . . . . . . . . . .47-2

ALLAN LAMB can take Northamptonshire into their sixth Gillette/NatWest final today, with every chance of leading them to a second success. The abrasive little batsman, spurned by England, will see Lord's on 5 September as the perfect stage upon which to make gestures, triumphant and rude, to Lord Ted and the England committee.

The situation last night, when bad light stopped play, was that Northamptonshire needed another 103 runs from 37 overs to win. The team who bats the better on a pitch of dubious quality will win and Lamb, with Nigel Felton and six others to come, looks the favourite despite the speed, swing and artifice of Warwickshire's seam attack.

The heavy overnight rain delayed the start until 1.25. Sending in Warwickshire may have been one of the shrewdest decisions of Lamb's captaincy for their bowling would have been a formidable proposition.

The pitch looked flat and heavily rolled but the pace and bounce were just variable enough to have the batsmen on tenterhooks; it was not a good surface for a limited-overs match. However the Bears began cheerily enough, Andy Moles dogged, Roger Twose frisky.

When Curtly Ambrose retired after only two overs it was an early goal for Warwickshire. A score of 20 after seven overs of the new ball was a good start until Twose leaned too far outside his off- stump and dollied a gentle catch to square cover.

The next left-hander, Andy Lloyd, appeared in no real difficulty until, five overs later, he pushed forward outside his off stump and was surprised to see the ball lob to mid-off for a return catch.

Ambrose was recalled from the pavilion end and 10 runs later Dominic Ostler, who had shown signs of asserting himself, fenced at a short-pitched ball and was caught behind. From the rear the ball seemed to have caught his forearm, high, and he thought so, too, but the umpire Barrie Meyer had the better view.

It was an unhappy departure and it sent Warwickshire into crisis at 45 for 3 with 18 overs gone. By then, too, the ball was beginning to move off the pitch, the innings taking a deadly blow when Moles was leg before at 56.

Dermot Reeve and Trevor Penney were then up the infamous one-day cul-de-sac, unable to risk wickets in a game that can only succeed with large scores.

For 12 overs we might have been watching a timeless Test as Northamptonshire ambled through their overs. They overlapped their allotted time and could be facing a fine of more than pounds 3,000.

Reeve had spent 61 balls on his 18 runs when he, too, was leg before. Penney soon followed, a third strike on the pads. Neil Smith tried to break the shackles with an enormous swing that was foiled by Alan Fordham's dive to catch him virtually on the ropes; two inches further and it would have been a six, such was Warwickshire's luck.

Keith Piper swung across the line and it was left to the beneficiary Gladstone Small, who had been happily listening to the chink-chink of coins dropping into the collection buckets, to perk up the Bears' tail; the staff had certainly been ragged. Northamptonshire were batting by six o'clock on an evening of stiff breeze and long shadows, Alan Fordham playing Allan Donald comfortably until one delivery of extra speed veered late and shaved the edge for Keith Piper to take a fine, wide, one- handed catch.

Rob Bailey had to duck hurriedly before a wicked bouncer. Nigel Felton missed a nick by a hair's breadth while Tim Munton's second ball brought another good catch behind, and the loss of Bailey.

That left Lamb and Felton up a narrow mountain path in fading light and an abyss below, a time for careful negotiation and no risks. Bad light caused a 15-minute break at 7.30; they returned for three overs to a fast-emptying ground, and two spectators were led off. If Fellini understood cricket he would have directed the scene.

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