Lamb launches a counter-offensive

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The Independent Online
reports from Northampton

Hampshire 560 Northamptonshire 152-3

When bold bats are required in a winning cause, none come broader than Allan Lamb's. With Warwickshire becoming outright Championship leaders for the first time this season, Northamptonshire, previously joint top, needed bravado in adversity.

Lamb made 83, with 18 fours from 104 balls, a stunning performance after taking guard when an innings, pale and wan at 13 for 2, wavered in the shadow of 411 to save the follow-on. They still want another 259.

After his side have headed the table for more than two months, Lamb, back after three weeks' absence through a cracked thumb, has no thoughts of their Championship hopes fading. He said, when 75 not out during a brief rain interruption: "The first target is to avoid batting again but there's no point in hanging about to do it. We must get on positively and hopefully, make Hampshire force a declaration."

Lamb added another eight runs before being caught at slip, aiming towards leg and generously nodding approval to Rajesh Maru, the bowler. From there, Northamptonshire took a new stance, bringing in Paul Taylor as nightwatchman to partner the resolute Rob Bailey as a prelude to an ongoing intent to accumulate rapidly today.

Hampshire had made their highest total against Northamptonshire and the biggest score by any visiting team to this ground since 1938. Strokeplay still transcended statistics, with Robin Smith's innings of 172 including 33 fours from 324 balls.

Mark Nicholas made 120, with 18 fours and two sixes, their partnership falling only 14 short of Hampshire's all-time record for the fourth wicket.

In a match of striking individual performances, Anil Kumble returned 7 for 131, his finest return in his debut season with Northamptonshire, for whom he has taken 50 Championship wickets.

Kumble's assets feature the pace with which he pushes the ball through and the bounce he attains was too much for some, notably Russell Warren, an apprentice wicketkeeper.

Shaun Udal's innings of 62 from 85 balls followed his half-century in the previous match against Yorkshire. The day's abiding moments belonged to Lamb and his steely attitude, which perishes the thought that Northamptonshire might just finish with the consolation of runners-up for the fifth time.