Cricket interview

Allan Lamb, former England batsman

We often hear about the famous West Indian bowlers of the 1980s and 90s, so this month we spoke with a former England batsman who had an incredible record against them. While many players would have been delighted to have scored a ton against that great quartet of quicks, Allan Lamb scored six, including three successive tons in the summer of 1984, a magical year for this England great.

“I grew up playing against quick bowling in South Africa and that grounding definitely helped me,” said Allan. “But, not facing four at a time! You had to work out how to play them and one thing you had to do was alternate the strike. The last thing you wanted to do was face six successive balls. My plan was always to rotate the strike, score ones and twos and then hit the few bad balls for four. You always had to believe you could have success. I think that West Indies team always had the upper hand because they had four genuine quicks and batsmen were not confident on how to score runs. It was tough, but you had to have self-belief. I was just fortunate that I found a way to play against them and I was able to score runs.”

We’ll talk more about some of those innings later. But I wanted to learn a bit about Allan’s life as a youngster in South Africa and how the move to England came about.

Born in South Africa, to British parents, it was a difficult time for cricketers in the country. South Africa were banned from international cricket indefinitely because of apartheid, an issue that prevented Allan and other aspiring youngsters to represent the country on the world stage.

“It was my dream to play for South Africa. As a youngster I admired South African players such as Jackie McGlew and Trevor Goddard, and later on the Proctors and Pollocks. However, what apartheid did do, was make every game you played very tough. With none of the top South African players able to play international cricket it meant they all played in domestic games, so it was tough cricket. Every game you played in provincial cricket was like playing in a Test match, you had to survive. There were no prisoners. If you weren’t successful, you wouldn’t be selected.”

Allan represented Western Province, making his debut at just 18 years of age. Aside from a two-year absence when he undertook National Service in the South African Air Force and a year playing for Orange Free State, Allan spent all of his domestic career in South Africa at Western Province.

But in 1977 and with no sign of apartheid ending, Allan decided to make the move over to England. “My dream of playing for South Africa ended in 1977. For me to further my career, I had to make the move to England and play county cricket and to see what the future would hold and maybe to play internationally for England, if I was good enough.”

Allan made the move over with two other cricketers, Peter Kirsten and Garth Le Roux. “Northants put an offer to Peter Kirsten, but he ended up signing for Derbyshire, so they put that contract offer to me instead, I was their second choice!”

I asked Allan what he found was the biggest difference, at that time, between cricket in South Africa and England. “It was the fact that we were playing on uncovered pitches in England. But, as a result, I became a better player of spin.”

It was a great move for Allan as he went on to become a fixture in that Northants side for 17 years. However, despite being born to British parents, Allan had to undertake a 4 year qualifying period to be eligible to play for England on the international stage.

In 1982, with eligibility confirmed, Allan received a call from the England sectors and his dream of playing international cricket was realised. “I received a call on a Sunday while I was at a friend’s farm having lunch. I was advised not to change the way I played, and to just go out there and play your normal way and that is what I always tried to do playing for England.”

Allan made his debut against India at Lords. He scored 9 and 37 not out in that debut Test and what followed was 78 more Test matches and a permanent place in England’s middle order.

And it wasn’t long before his first significant innings. In just his third Test match for England, Allan hit his first Test match century at the Oval, an outstanding 107. “In those days you didn’t get a long run in the side, so it was important to get a score. We won that first Test match, I scored a few runs and I think people could see that I could play a bit. But, it was great to get that first hundred so soon after at the Oval. The only unfortunate thing was Ian Botham run me out, I could have got 200!”

In the winter of 1982, Allan got his first taste of Ashes cricket as England side travelled down under attempting to retain the urn they had won so memorably in 1981. “The Ashes was great. It was fantastic to play again Lillee, Thompson, Chappell and those guys. They were serious players and it was brilliant to get to know them and play against them. We lost the series 2-1, but unfortunately some very bad umpiring cost us. We should have drawn that series.”

For Allan individually, it was a great first tour, scoring 414 runs at 41.4. He was firmly cementing his position as the backbone of England’s middle order.

Allan’s form continued the following summer with two excellent centuries again New Zealand at the Oval and Trent Bridge.

But it was the summer of 1984, that was Allan’s golden year. As mentioned earlier, it was the year he scored three centuries against that great West Indian bowling line-up. What I didn’t mention earlier though was immediately after that series, England played a one-off Test against Sri Lanka and no surprise there was another Lamb century. If Carlsberg did summers this was most definitely it for Allan.

“It was one of those seasons where everything just went right for me. Everyone prays for a season like that and I was fortunate to have one. It was a great year personally the only thing was as a team we didn’t win a Test match! That was the poor thing of the summer of 1984.”

England ‘righted’ that West Indian whitewash with two memorable Ashes wins home and away. “It’s one of the best feelings to beat Australia home and away.” The away series was famed for a journalist who after the warm up games wrote that there was only three things wrong with this England team, they can’t bat, they can’t bowl and they can’t field. “That definitely fired up the players. We went on to win all of the tournaments we played, the Tests and the one dayers. It was a great year for us. It was a brilliant team effort to win those series. We had some good players, but we also had players who weren’t batting in the positions that they should have been, teamwork got us the success.”

One of the most memorable performances for Allan on that tour was in a one day international against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Chasing a modest 233, England had a shaky start losing openers Bill Athey and Chris Broad quite quickly. David Gower and Allan put on 86 runs for the third wicket before Gower was dismissed by Simon O’Donnell with England’s score at 137. Allan brought up his half century but was left stranded as England lost Gatting, Embury and Jack Richards quite quickly, reducing the team to 201 for 7. Allan was joined by Phil DeFreitas in the middle with the team needing 33 runs to register their second win of the series. The equation came down to 18 runs from the final 6 balls. What followed was something on a par with Carlos Braithwaite’s savage hitting of Ben Stokes in last year’s World T20 final as Allan hit Bruce Reid for 18 off of five balls to win the game. You can watch the video here.

“The funny thing was I hadn’t scored a boundary until that last over - I thought there was something wrong with my bat! I just said to myself that I’ve got to win this and hit these runs or I will feel such a plonker because I batted so badly - I couldn’t let my team mates down and I did it.”

It was a stunning performance and that over became the subject of a cheeky banner in the crowd during the next match between the two sides which read "Can Bruce Reid please call Allan Lamb on 24624"!

Sadly, England relinquished those Ashes two years later. “We didn’t play well in 1989. The Aussies played exceptionally well. We’d gone through a period of having so many captains, there were some bad selections, we had a few injuries, it was all very disappointing.”

England headed to the Caribbean after that series in the winter of 1989/90 to once again face the West Indies. To put into perspective how daunting this tour was: England had not beaten them in 23 Test matches. What followed was a moment of history and a first Test match victory, as the side pulled off a brilliant win in the opening Test of the series in Jamaica, with Allan scoring a memorable 132.

“That was my favourite hundred.”

England should have won the second Test of the series, which would have put them 2-0 up in the series, but ended up a winning draw. However, there was another big highlight for Allan on that tour. In the 4th Test match in Barbados an injury to captain Graham Gooch saw Allan, who was vice captain of the side, stepping up to captain England for the first time. He marked the occasion with another a century. “Captaining England and scoring a hundred in Barbados was great. It’s a great feeling to captain your country. But, we didn’t win the series and that was tough.”

I asked Allan, what was the major difference on that tour, compared to the previous series against the West Indies. “Having a lot of young guys on that tour was a big thing. It wasn’t the old heads there. It was tough for them competing, but that tour started the careers of the Hussains and Stewarts. It was a good learning curve for all of us. Just a pity we didn’t win the series.”

One of England’s other big highlights (and disappointments) of that era was of course the 1992 World Cup, where England went all the way to final, before losing to Pakistan in the final. “We had a very, very good side and we should have won it. Some poor decisions in the final definitely cost us. I had a calf strain, but the selectors brought me back in for the semi-final and final. We were very disappointed. I remember we had Javed Miandad absolutely plumb off the bowling of Derek Pringle, but it wasn’t given.”

I asked Allan, why he felt England in the one day game, were not able to build upon that tournament. “A few people dropped out, but we should have done better. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen.”

Allan himself retired from international cricket, not long after. “I was bringing a book out and Northants said I had to put it through the ECB, but they thought I might get banned for the book, so I just thought bugger me, that’s it, I call it a day. I probably had a couple of years left in me and I probably should have kept playing.”

Allan did continue playing for his beloved Northants - until 1995, when he retired from all cricket.

I asked Allan for his reflections of his time at Northants. “We won the Gillet Cup in my early years and I became cricketer of the year in 1979. We had quite a lot of success over the years but we were never up there for the championship, apart from in 1995; which was a shame as that was always one of my aims to win the county championship. Warwickshire just pipped us in 95, but we should have won it. Anil Kumble got a hundred plus wickets that year. But we did well over the years in one day cricket. It was my success at Northants which got me selected for England.”

Throughout Allan’s career he faced some of the best bowlers to play the game and he lists Malcolm Marshall as the stand out bowler.

“Malcolm Marshall was the best. The most awkward would have been Joel Garner and Curtly Ambrose because of the bounce they got.”

The best batsmen? “Viv Richards and Barry Richards.”

And the best players he played with? “Ian Botham, Graham Gooch and David Gower.”

I also asked Allan how he thinks he would have fared in today’s game? “Players in our day would have competed absolutely fine. To be honest I would have liked to have seen some of them playing against the four West Indian quicks! But England have some very good players, some great youngsters and the future is bright. We just lack spinners.”

Allan now runs his own corporate hospitality event and travel company, Allan Lamb Associates and is a regular on Twitter.

Allan played a total of 201 international matches for England (79 Tests, 122 One-Day Internationals), and became, without doubt, one of our finest players of fast bowlers.

Allan Lamb – thank you.

On the 6th June Allan and his company are supporting the Chris Gayle Foundation with a fundraising event in London. In attendance will be Chris Gayle, Ravi Bopara and Yuvraj Singh alongside several other famous faces from the cricketing and entertainment world. For more information click on the image below.

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