Cricket: Robust Lamb strikes defiant pose

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Hampshire 260 and 18-1

Northamptonshire 338-8 dec

IF THERE is nothing to match the fury of a woman scorned, Allan Lamb's ire comes pretty close. Any captain capable of spending the night in a casino while his team are collapsing like a pack of cards clearly possesses an enviable knack for shrugging off life's little tribulations. Yet while uncertainty swirls over the Northamptonshire leader's future, both at international and county level, yesterday's fifth century of the season constituted a predictably assertive riposte.

Of all the alibis for pawky batting, the reluctance of the ball to 'come on' to the bat on turgid surfaces such as this remains the one most frequently trotted out, and comfortably the crassest. What about making the bat come on to the ball?

Hampshire have never been shy in voicing disquiet over the Dean Park strip - a factor, perhaps, in the decision to make this the final Bournemouth festival - and proceeded on Friday as if bent on ramming the point home. Lamb, conversely, was vigour personified from the off. Even when his side stumbled to 64 for 3, and later 228 for 5, there was no hint of submissiveness.

Northamptonshire's prospects of becoming the third county to achieve a Championship-NatWest double may be slim, but they will hardly fail through lack of enterprise. Spending two sessions accomplishing what Hampshire had managed in three, they pushed ahead shortly after tea, Lamb garnering 160 from 211 balls out of the 232 runs scored off the bat during his reign. Twenty-five fours and a six studded an innings that suggested its maker's sell-by date is someway distant.

David Ripley's feisty 57 ensured a full hoard of batting points but such riches appeared far-off while Malcolm Marshall was dispatching Nigel Felton and Rob Bailey amid the early going. Indeed, when Alan Fordham sliced the wayward Kevin Shine to slip the prevailing urgency seemed misguided.

Not for long. Like WC Field's proverbial sucker, Lamb is not the sort to be given an even break, and Robin Smith soon regretted his inability to intercept a top-edged hook off Shine. A meatier hook off Kevan James smacked full tilt into the square leg hoardings to raise the 100. A whipped drive greeted Shaun Udal's off-spin, ushering Lamb to 50 off 66 deliveries. Duly inspired, David Capel took a shine to Shine, easing three boundaries in one over.

Until Udal and Ian Turner, a flightly left-armer, exerted a semblance of control in mid-afternoon, it was full steam ahead, the century stand arriving in 27 overs - Capel's share 33 - before the increasingly silent partner wafted fatally at Marshall. Undettered, Lamb carried on roasting spin and seam alike, lashing Jon Ayling backward of square to reach three figures from 125 balls, 82 of them in boundaries.

Shine eventually had his revenge when Lamb dragged a wide one towards mid-on, Turner judging a testing catch to perfection in the gusting wind to end a memorable knock. As a last-ditch elbow to the selectors' ribs, it could scarcely be bettered. This morning we shall discover whether Northamptonshire are to be the sole beneficiaries.