Warwickshire 293 for 7 (Lamb 106) trail Surrey 428 for 8 dec by 135 runs
Immediately after the Grand National delivered yet another heartwarming story, Warwickshire and Surrey trooped back onto the field at Edgbaston after a rain delay. The Championship is far too earnest these days to suggest that the two facts were remotely connected, but in a more easy-going age county cricket has been known to briefly come to a halt to glean the result of the 2.30 from Uttoxeter, never mind the 5.15 from Aintree, so it might be a good thing if they were.
The players are professional, and fulfil their obligations. The best can turn their suffering into England recognition, such as Ben Foakes who made a resolute hundred on the second day here. Old stagers like Stuart Broad nod wisely and say, seven games in seven weeks, in such cold, with an England place to recover, no sorry, that’s not for me? Few really enjoy watching it in April unless the ball hoops around. The members insist upon their quota of four-day cricket, but not many turn up. It is a game staged for statisticians, a game staged to keep up appearances, a game best loved from afar.
That made Lamb’s hundred all the more welcome. On a third day that for the most part was a gruelling watch, as Warwickshire responded to Surrey’s 428 for 8 declared by defiantly mapping out what appears to be a successful two-day route to draw points, he blissfully struck 106 from 138 balls. By the time the follow-on was averted, the rest of Warwickshire’s batters had mustered 169 from 463. Or to put it another way, his hundred came at more than twice their scoring rate. It felt less like a century than a blood transfusion.
“I was a little bit frenetic for the first ten balls but then settled down,” he said. “I just went out there to be as positive as I can and I know that, in the past, when I have had that mindset I have got into much better positions and that has allowed me to score more freely.”
He resisted, as did Sam Hain, a threatening first-hour assault from Kemer Roach and Reece Topley, but Lamb then drove with elan on a surface where others just dug in, adopting an assertive approach with three fours in an over against the young seamer James Taylor, who looks to have filled out a bit and otherwise bowled with great promise.
Most fun was had, though, when Roach and Topley returned for second spells with an understandable desire to test him out against the short stuff, move the game on a bit, trade runs for wickets. Lamb had a couple of swishes against slower bouncers, but hooked and pulled Roach to enter the eighties, and did likewise against Topley to bring up the 90s. A fulsome leg-side pick-up against Roach to move from 92 to 98 was wonderfully out of keeping with much of the day and seemed to have been transplanted from a night at the Blast. By now, the adrenalin was flowing, and when he pulled Topley to long leg, he would have run two for his hundred anyway even if the hapless fielder had not chested it over the boundary.
The gambit having failed, the old ball seemed to age 20 overs within moments. It required an exceptional piece of fielding to remove him. Lamb mistimed a pull at Topley and Jacks plunged low to his right at deep square leg, 10 metres in from the boundary as Surrey retained an attacking intent, to pull off a spectacular one-handed catch.
From 41 for 4, facing a follow-on figure of 279, Warwickshire had been committed to a day of toil. At 198 for 5, they were still 81 short and quick wickets would have put them under pressure but Dan Mousley, whose place is under threat once the South Australian Nathan McAndrew arrives in time for Essex’s visit to Edgbaston in two weeks’ time, joined Hain in a stand of 65 in 36 overs despite a break for rain and ever retreating temperatures.
Hain (78 from 228) and Mousley (43 from 128) both responded virtuously. Neither looked in good touch but, in a way, every mistimed stroke made their virtue all the more apparent. Hain got out to a leave-alone – a suitable end – as Jordan Clark nipped one back when the follow-on figure was in sight; Mousley fell at slip, whipping Clark, three balls after it had been averted, his concentration perhaps momentarily released. Their concentration had been more reliable than some of us who watched them – and they could take pride in that.
It is a rum thing to consider that avoiding the follow-on remains such a thing even when many captains no longer bother to enforce it. For all that, the dirge was eminently justifiable. In football, lack of entertainment can often indicate a lack of desire – just look at Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United. But in cricket, the situation is often what matters. And, for those who don’t know, it was a helluva finish in the National.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps