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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Noel Hamilton (Ham) Lambert
  • Born 6 June 1910 Dublin
  • Died 10 October 2006 Enniskerry, Co Wicklow
  • Educated Sandford Park School, Dublin; Rossall School, Lancashire; DublinVeterinary Vetinary College
  • Occupation Veterinary Surgeon
  • Debut 22 July 1931 v MCC at Lord's
  • Cap Number 386
  • Style Right hand bat
  • Teams Leinster

Ham Lambert was born into a family distinguished both on and off the cricket field. He was son of the great all rounder Bob Lambert, and thus, nephew of SD - Sep - Lambert elegant batsman and wicket keeper. Another uncle, WH, played with distinction for Dublin University and Leinster. Two of Ham's brothers were also good cricketers. Drummond gaining one Irish cap as an opening bowler, Tom playing for Leinster. Another brother, Gordon, followed father Bob into the Irish badminton team. Into the bargain, one of Ham's aunts also played badminton for Ireland.

Ham, having "found out cricket", from his father, developed his skills further at school. At Sandford Park, he had the advantage of a cricket mad headmaster, Douglas Cordner, former Canadian and future Irish wicket keeper. When Ham crossed the sea to Rossall, he had the professional coaching and immaculate practice and match wickets - then typical of all English public schools - on which further to hone his skills.

Among his contemporaries there, on the rather bleak Lancastrian coast, though not, as far as can be discovered cricketers, were a half Chinese boy, a slightly older than Ham, and, slightly younger an Anglo - Irish aristocrat. The former, Leslie Bowyer - Yin, was later to take the name of Leslie Charteris and create "The Saint", while the latter, to succeed his father as Lord Glenavy, preferred as a Television personality to be known under his family name of Patrick Campbell. Ham remains one of the most distinguished cricketing Old Rossallians, others including Vernon Royle - one Test for England in 1878/79, the same match which gave Irish cricketer Leland Hone his sole England cap - and Nigel Howard, the Lancashire captain who led England in India in 1951/52.

Ham had made his first senior appearance for Leinster at the age of 14, becoming a regular, once his schooling was finished, generally batting at 4 or 5. In a career lasting until 1950, he scored 5980 runs at 30. 35 with five 100s and thirty two 50s. A tall man with film star looks, he was mainly a front foot player, being well remembered for his straight driving, but, quick on his feet, could also cut and hook well off the back foot. Perhaps, however, it was in the field where he really excelled. A swift mover to the ball, even after the injury which terminated his potentially brilliant rugby career, he was an outstanding cover point, his low and fast returns to the keeper, being seen as models of their kind.

In League and Cup cricket his five hundreds for Leinster, included three against Civil Service, of which the best - though not the highest - was probably his 90 minute 111 in Phoenix Park in 1932. His highest score in competitive matches was 149* v Dublin University in College Park in 1942, while his final three figure innings at this level was 125 v Phoenix at Rathmines in 1945. He won the Marchant Cup, awarded to the most successful batsman in Leinster Cricket Union competitive cricket, in two successive seasons: 1941, when he aggregated 574 runs at 37 and the following year when his average was 57 and his total runs 513. That season was, incidentally, the fourth in a row in which the trophy had gone to a member of the Leinster Club.

Ham was a prominent member of the Leinster Interprovincial side and was also in the team which took on Derbyshire, with almost the full county side, in College Park in May 1946. Not unnaturally the hosts were outclassed, though they did reduce the visitors to 66/4 at the outset. The formidable Derbyshire seam attack of Bill Copson, George Pope and Bert "Dusty" Rhodes - who also bowled leg spin with great effect - was too much for the Leinster batsmen. Ham did make 27 in the second innings, second top score to Tom Williams, with whom he added 44 for the 5th wicket, easily the best Leinster stand of the match. He lost his wicket in each innings, not to pace, but to the off spin of opening bat Charlie Elliott. Charlie, who played football for Coventry City, later became a highly regarded Test umpire. Ham was caught by batsman Alan Revill in the first innings and by Rhodes, father of controversial paceman Harold, in the second.

Ham's Irish career began in 1931, the year in which his father, aged 56, called time on his. Ham was to play 21 matches scoring 577 runs at 18.03 with one 100 and one 50. Though these figures suggest that he underachieved somewhat at this level, he had some notable performances to remember.

His debut match, coming as a substitute for George McVeagh, was one such. Ireland gained an innings victory over MCC at Lord's largely due to a fine all round display by the captain Tom Dixon, but Ham, batting at 8, made a stylish 45. He put on 49 for the 7th with Jimmy Boucher. He lost his wicket, lbw, to Reggie Collins, an Australian born civil servant, whose bowling style is unknown. This stand, and fierce hitting by Dixon, enabled Ireland to post a good total and win by an innings and 44 runs. Ham also batted well in the Sion Mills run feast against MCC in 1934.

In both innings he was involved in useful stands with James Macdonald, the second of which saved Ireland from the possibility of defeat. His wicket went to medium paced Middlesex amateurs in both innings, HJ Enthoven in the first and RE Butterworth, who was to die in action six years later, in the second. Ham had four other notable innings for Ireland. Beginning in 1937 with 69* v Scotland, in the first innings, at Ormeau. Batting at 7, below Boucher in the order but above McVeagh, both of which seem rather strange captaincy decisions, his knock took 105 minutes, and was the fastest scoring of the innings. Ireland won a tight match by 63 runs, Ham had thus played a crucial part, though he failed in the second innings.

He was also in good first innings form that season against MCC in a two day match at Lord's. Batting at 7, he repeated his debut 45, putting on 71 for the 6th with Donald Shearer (52), one of the few times in the match that the visitors batting seemed on top. He fell leg before to slow left armer Jack Young, who took 1361 first class wickets and played eight Tests, Ireland lost the match by 9 wickets, collapsing in the second innings for 75, after gaining a first innings lead of over a hundred. Ham was one of four ducks, falling to William Wignall, who played four first class matches for Middlesex, and - in this innings - shared the wickets with Oliver Battock, a left arm medium pacer, whose "day job" was to be the actor Oliver Gordon.

However Ham's best innings of the season for Ireland was a mere 25*. This was in the astonishing match against New Zealand at Rathmines in September. Though a three day first class match, it was all over on the first. Batting first Ireland were put out for 79. It would have been much worse but for Ham. Batting low in the order, he came in at 51-7, to strike four uninhibited boundaries on his was to an undefeated 25, easily top score. The visitors replied with 64, the great JCB being well nigh unplayable. Unfortunately that description also applied to New Zealand fastman Jack Cowie, who took 6-3, including Ham for 0, as Ireland collapsed to 30 all out. Though the Kiwis then lost a wicket without a run on the board they had no further alarms and won by 8 wickets.

The following summer saw Ham's highest score for Ireland in a memorable victory over Sir Julien Cahn's XI, a side powerful in batting and bowling. The match, at Rathmines, resulted in an Irish victory by 110 runs. Played in good weather on a perfect Observatory Lane track, it resulted in an innings and 30 runs victory for the home side. Cahn's XI began by collapsing against Eddie Ingram and Boucher but then reduced Ireland to 46/4 at which point Ham came to the crease. "He at once set about the bowling," recorded Derek Scott, adding that Lambert "gave a delightful display." In all he batted 95 minutes making 103 out of 156 added while he was at the wicket. Straight driving the pace of South African Test man Bob Crisp, later author of Brazen Chariots, a blood and thunder book of war memoirs, with aplomb, he struck eleven 4s, before being caught off New South Wales leg spinner Harold Mudge. When Cahn's side batted again, they were once more made look very ordinary by the "Belvedere Boys" Ingram and Boucher, who shared 17 of the 20 wickets.

Ham was to play seven more times for Ireland, continuing until the end of the 1947 season, but he only reached double figures on three more occasions, his best being 26 against Scotland at The Mardyke in 1947.

He was, of course equally well known as a rugby footballer. Had he not suffered a retirement forcing injury after gaining two international caps, he might very well now be regarded as one of the great Irish centres. If not quite a Brian O'Driscoll, certainly a Kevin Flynn or David Hewitt. He had played for Lansdowne from the age of 17, being a member of an outstanding back division, which included not only him, but fly half Eugene Davy, winger Jack "Joxer" Arigho, and Ernie Crawford, prince of full backs, who though an Ulsterman, played his rugby in Dublin. Ernie was a cricketer also, with Ham's Leinster, captaining the Thirds for several seasons. Injury did not end Ham's rugby connections. He became a highly regarded referee, officiating in 11 internationals, in the days before easy air travel meant that his successors traversed the globe with their whistles. After his retirement from active refereeing he became a highly valued instructor, running courses for the Leinster Referees for many years.

Ham, would, however himself, have always said that his veterinary work came first. Entering a practice begun by his grandfather, and continued by Bob, Sep and joined in by his brothers, he had a varied practice, working with cattle and being the chief veterinary officer for Dublin Zoo, as well as establishing his domestic animal practice, in which his innovative skills and loving respect for his patients, made him his city's most sought after practitioner. Few others could claim to have cured an elephant one day and a gerbil the next, but Ham could and did. He was also much involved with the training of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Ham was a hugely popular and respected man in every aspect of his life. He had the knack of making everybody who encountered him, feel the most important person of the moment, and no request, as this writer in the course of research almost 30 years ago well remembers, was ever too little or too much to receive his full attention. In old age he took to golf, showing how well he could have done in this sport also. He had, incidentally, also been an Irish badminton trialist.

His wife Jean predeceased him, but, when Ireland's oldest living cricketer he died in 2006, he was survived by his three children, the youngest of whom, Mark, is the well known actor.

Noel Hamilton Lambert's obituary is in Wisden 2007.