1998 August 14, 2010

The tragic death of Raman Lamba

When fielding at forward short-leg without a helmet on cost an Indian international his life

While traditionalists might still moan about their effect on the aesthetics of the game, there is little doubt the introduction of helmets in the last three decades has reduced the number of serious injuries in cricket, to both batsmen and fielders.

It remains, nevertheless, a potentially dangerous sport, and while almost all batsmen now wear protective equipment, a few close fielders prefer not to wear helmets, arguing they have an adverse effect on balance and reactions. They would do well to remember the sad case of Raman Lamba.

Lamba was an aggressive, if technically slightly suspect, batsman, whose career had promised much but never quite reached the heights expected. He arrived in style, smacking a hundred and two fifties in six ODIs against Australia in 1986-87, but his next five one-dayers produced only eight runs and by the late 1980s, and after a fair number of chances, he had been discarded. Four Tests were equally unproductive and despite scoring heavily in domestic cricket, he was not picked again.

He became a gun for hire, playing club cricket in Ireland - as well as representing them as their overseas player - and marrying an Irish girl. He also played club cricket in Bangladesh, which, although it had yet to gain full international status, had a vibrant club scene, attracting some good-quality players from overseas. Lamba was one of the early pioneers, first playing there in 1991 and telling friends that he was "the Don of Dhaka".

On February 20, 1998, Lamba was fielding for Abahani Krira Chakra against Mohammedan Sporting in Dhaka's Premier League at the Bangabandhu Stadium when he was summoned from the outfield to go to short leg.

Khaled Mashud was captaining Abahani Krira Chakra in the absence of the regular skipper. "I brought on the left-arm spinner for that one over and after three balls I decided to change the field. I looked around and I saw Raman and asked him to stand at forward short-leg." Mashud asked him if he wanted a helmet but Lamba said that "it was just three balls and so it wouldn't be a problem".

The delivery from Saifullah Khan was short and Mehrab Hossain pulled it hard, hitting Lamba in the forehead with such force it rebounded beyond Mashud, the wicketkeeper, who had to backpedal to take the catch. ''I knew Mehrab was out," Mashud said. "But when the other players gathered around me to celebrate, I looked for Raman. He was lying on the ground."

Lamba was well enough to get up and after reassuring fielders he was okay, unassisted he slowly made his way back to the dressing room. The team doctor told him to lie down and gave him water to drink, but after a few minutes Lamba told team-mates he felt unwell and was rushed to hospital. By the time he got there he had lost consciousness, and after he suffered convulsions, surgeons operated to a remove a blood clot from the left side of his brain. A specialist was flown in from Delhi but returned almost straightaway, saying there was no hope of recovery.

Three days after he was hit, Lamba's life support was turned off with the approval of his family. His wife, Kim, who had flown in from Delhi to be with him was at his bedside along with their five-year-old son and three-year daughter.

"He was at a private hospital first and then moved to the government hospital, but it was too late," Mashud said. "'He died because we did not have good medical facilities then."

"Raman's death was a big jolt," Kapil Dev said at the time. "It was as if the entire earth had moved under one's feet. This is a lesson for every cricketer to take precautions to avert such tragedies."

Understandably the incident affected Mehrab considerably. ''He couldn't sleep for two or three days,'' Mashud recalled. He even spent a spell away from the game, but eventually returned and went on to play for Bangladesh.

Aminul Islam, the former Bangladesh captain who was the non-striker when Lamba was struck, said that Lamba's role in helping take the country to Test status should not be overlooked. "Had Raman been alive, he would have been proud to see how far Bangladesh cricket has come. He was very dear to us, and remains one of our best cricket friends. He did a lot for Bangladesh cricket. I wrote a column in a newspaper on some memorable moments spent with Raman. And when I sat down to write it, I cried.

"Bangladesh loved Lamba, a stand in his name at the Bangabandhu Stadium was promised. But they don't even play cricket there now."

"He always dressed young, thought young and played young," Vijay Lokapally wrote in the Hindu. "Alas, he died young."

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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