THE day that brought the season's highest, and Northamptonshire's largest ever, total, as well as personal landmarks for Allan Lamb and Russell Warren, was also one of trying to outguess the home skipper. Which of all the possible occasions did Lamb feel gave the best hope for a win, keeping his side in the hunt for what would be a first Championship title? The coming week will be a very big one for the club, as they try to force a conclusion to this game tomorrow, meet the table leaders Middlesex at Uxbridge on Tuesday and move to Lord's on Saturday for the NatWest final.
Lamb will have enjoyed a few standing ovations in his career, but surely not when he is simply strolling off for lunch on 71 not out. The crowd had just been informed of his latest achievement, becoming the fifth Northamptonshire batsman, after Jack Timms, Dennis Brookes, Geoff Cook and Wayne Larkins, to deliver 20,000 first-class runs for the county, in his 448th innings.
As for the local man Warren, who has added wicketkeeping to his CV this summer, he moved confidently and stylishly beyond his maiden first-class century as Lamb elected to pile on the runs. Alan Fordham and Robert Montgomerie had already given the home side their season's best start in pursuit of Nottinghamshire's 527, building on an overnight 149 before Chris Cairns, the only visiting bowler to find any danger in a very flat wicket, capitalised on Montgomerie's uncertainty outside off-stump. Then Warren found pugnacious partners in Lamb, cracking a century almost at a run a ball, Kevin Curran and David Capel.
Tim Robinson, the Nottinghamshire captain, is not generous when it comes to declarations, but the day's first possible equation was that Lamb might have negotiated to declare short of the follow-on mark, giving the visitors the rest of the day to set their target.
Then the follow-on point itself came and went, with Lamb on 96. Tea arrived, with Warren on 93, and still the home side pressed on into the evening. By now the idea was clearly to declare on Monday morning, gambling on Anil Kumble being able to exploit the small degree of turn appearing in the pitch.
It was quite a gamble, particularly when the dismissals of Curran and Warren meant that Northamptonshire were almost through their batsmen and still only 82 ahead. A late evening collapse would have allowed Nottinghamshire to progress steadily to victory after the weekend.
If Northamptonshire do not win this match, and a draw remains most likely, their chance of the Championship will effectively be over for another year. On a wicket that could host a timeless Test, Lamb has opted to depend entirely on the skills of his own team, rather than hope for a benign or miscalculated gesture from the opposition. But in a game top-heavy with runs, it was Warren's day.Reuse content