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Sporting Flashback: How Lamba made NCU Cup history with a double ton

Raman Lamba

It was the carnage that Robin Haire remembers. Those last few overs when Raman Lamba took apart the students' bowling and brought up his double century, with perfect timing, off the last ball of the innings.

It was first round day in the NCU Challenge Cup, May 9, 1987, and North Down had been drawn against Queen's University, David against Goliath. I can't remember what took me to The Green in Comber that day because there was virtually no chance of a Cup upset but I will never forget Lamba's innings and neither does the North Down captain that day.

Lamba, the Indian with the film star looks, had made his Test debut just five months earlier and was in his fourth season at North Down. He was the club's first overseas professional and had made an instant impact, scoring a hundred on his second appearance against Waringstown at The Lawn.

In his first game in the Cup, in 1984, he had to be content with 97 against RUC and followed up with 81 in the quarter-final against Cliftonville. But it was first-round exits for North Down the following two years so when Haire won the toss and chose to bat first, the team that had won the trophy more often than anyone else were striving to avoid a hat-trick of defeats in the competition.

"It was 60 overs in those days and Raman opened with Don Shields," recalled Haire. " Ian Carser batted three and when he was out I went in at No.4 with plenty of overs left."

The professional and the captain put on over 200 unbroken for the third wicket with Haire standing in awe at the other end.

"I remember standing at the non-striker's end for the last few overs and it was just carnage, especially after Paul Stafford had finished his 12 overs for just 30 runs.

"He was also unlucky not to get Raman out because it was certainly not a chanceless innings. Raman must have been dropped five times, always at the same end, at long-on or long-off, with three of the chances off young Staffy."

Thanks to his five lives, Lamba finished 203 not out in a total of 322 for two, with Haire's contribution to the mammoth partnership 54 not out.

It was a total well beyond the Queen's batsmen and they were bowled out for 163 with Haire taking three for 16 - "I was still bowling a lot in those days and, of course, I was captain!"

It was Lamba's day, however, and Haire fondly recalls what an instant impression he made on the club on his arrival.

"When I picked him up at the airport after his long flight from Delhi, he wanted to go straight to the ground, a real professional attitude. He started the serious warm-ups before a game. In those days, we just did a bit of batting and bowling before the start but Raman said, 'No, you have to warm up your muscles properly', so we were probably the first club to do 20-minute warm-ups," he said.

And he took that professionalism onto the field.

"He scored that brilliant hundred at The Lawn in his second match and I also remember a superb innings of 166 against Malahide in the Irish Cup," said Haire. "The 200 against Queen's (still the highest individual score in the competition) was not nearly as good as the other two. I'm sure he scored 20+ hundreds for North Down in his nine seasons with us."

Fittingly, he also scored a hundred in his last game for the club, by coincidence against Waringstown, in 1996.

"He knew then the club weren't re-engaging him the following season so it was almost inevitable he signed off with another century," added Haire.

It would be one of his last ever because 18 months later Raman Lamba was hit on the head, while fielding at short leg without a helmet, in a game in Bangladesh. He slipped into a coma and died three days later.

"A terrible loss and a big shock to everybody," said Haire. "He is still missed at Comber but we will never forget him."

Scores: North Down 322-2 (R Lamba 203 not out, R Haire 54 not out, D Shields 25, I Carser 24) Queen's University 163 (S Skelly 38, P Caller 37, C McCall 20; R Haire 3-15). North Down won by 159 runs.

Belfast Telegraph