The former England batsman Allan Lamb had goosebumps when he watched his “dear old friend” Kevin Curran’s son Sam make his Test debut against India in 2018. Kevin, the flamboyant Zimbabwe player, died in 2012, and the story of Sam, and his brothers Tom and Ben, is a quite a tale of adversity, compassion from cricketing fraternity, and a fierce competitive streak in Sam, which in Lamb’s assessment, is genetic.
Now, that streak and oodles of talent has landed Sam Curran with big bucks: at 18.5 crores, the most expensive player in IPL history.
“I just wish Kevin was around to see this. He would have been so so happy. At 12, to lose your father, change countries, and then go on to play for England. And he is just 20. Kevin was a great old friend of mine,” Lamb once told The Indian Express.
Kevin Curran used to play for Zimbabwe back in the 80’s, and was known for his larger-than-life personality at the county Northants where he was a team-mate of Lamb.
In 2012, Kevin was jogging when he suffered a heart attack and died. “It was sad and shocking,” Lamb tells this newspaper. “Kevin was the fittest man I knew, a larger-than-life figure, fiercely competitive – and I couldn’t believe it when I heard he died of a heart attack while he was jogging. I had to go across to Wellington College to break the news to Tom. It was miserable times.”
For a while, even before their father’s death, misery had shadowed the lives of Curran brothers.
In 2005, Zimbabwe’s late authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe’s men came calling at their farm, their home. “Kevin was told he had to evacuate the farm. Luckily, since he was a cricket player, they gave him a month to move out.” During those chaotic times, Mugabe’s men were forcing the white farmers to leave Zimbabwe. Kevin had to go, his mother’s ashes were scattered across his farm.
“I remember telling him that he should come to England for the sake of his sons but he wouldn’t budge,” says Lamb, who is the godfather to the boys. Kevin had got a job with the Zimbabwe cricket team and continued to live there even after his divorce.
“His sons were everything to him. I remember watching startling videos of the boys—Sam must have been 4—playing for hours. Kevin would throw the ball to them. Nothing fancy, mind you. No grass pitches or anything like that. But on clay surface. I knew then that these boys would go on to do something special.”
More evidence of their talent came when the boys came to watch Kevin play with Lamb at Northants. “They would play on the sidelines, and I remember telling Kevin that your sons are better than you, and are going to go a long way. I am so glad today that I was right,” he laughs.
After Kevin died, the cricketing community rallied around the Currans. While Tom had moved to England, the rest of the family —Sam, Ben and mother Sara—stayed back. Zimbabwe’s then coach Geoff Marsh ensured that the family of his assistant, Kevin, had a roof over their heads.
Meanwhile, Lamb was trying to convince Sara to send the other two sons to England. “She just wanted one thing: let the boys be together at the same school.” Lamb managed to get the thing done, and Wellington college also assisted the family financially with scholarships.
That’s how Lamb got to see Sam blossom. “He must have been 12 or something and rightaway, you saw how competitive he was. Just like his father. He was very determined and I told him that he has the talent to go all the way. Then his brother Tom got through first to England, and Sam got more ambitious, saying, ‘I got to play with Tom for England’.
“I still believe that he is a batsman-bowler; not the other way around. I would be surprised if he doesn’t move up the order soon – he is a bloody good batsman who also bowls well. Not the other way around,” Lamb says.
Dan Pratt, the head coach of cricket at Wellington College, remembers that competitive streak of Sam. “Tom was the older brother, probably already 17-18 and could bowl at a fair pace. He would go all out in brotherly banter at Sam in the nets. Bouncers, pacy deliveries … Sam would take a few blows on the body but never flinched. The intensity at those nets was something else.
“I have never seen any boy train as hard as Sam did. You might think it’s an exaggeration but that was the truth. There was no doubt in any of our minds about his future. In fact, I would have been absolutely shocked if he never played for England.”
Pratt agrees with Lamb’s assessment that Sam was a batsman who could bowl. “I remember the biggest match for our school was against Harrow. He scored 3 hundreds in 3 years. He was so chuffed about it. Never seen a kid so desperate as he was to do well against the tougher opponents. There was also another game when he took 6 for 9. Those kind of incidents were enough to tell that he was special.”
What Pratt remembers most was Sam’s love for the game. “I would walk past him, and he would be watching tracking something on his laptop. A second-division game in Bangladesh. Live on some website. Or some such obscure games. He would then excitedly tell me that some player has got a hundred. He would spend hours watching games from all over the world, constantly updating himself and picking up something or other.”
For Lamb, it’s the competitive streak that stands out. “Even when playing golf, he would want to hit the ball furthest. Both him and Tom. A friend and I play against Tom and Sam, and we nicknamed them “Water boys”; they keep hitting the golf ball in the water. Even fishing, he would be competitive! When you have the talent and then possess that kind of competitiveness, you are going to succeed in sport.
“I would have done anything to help him. I was their guardian father. Phone is always there. It would have been tough for him. At 12 when you lose a father like that … who was always involved with him, I sort of took over after that and I would have done anything for Kevin. He would have done the same for me.”
Lamb chuckles at a memory. When he and Kevin finished a county game quickly, ran off the field, straight into a waiting car to catch a flight to Scotland for a fishing trip. “Kevin was that kind of a guy.” So was Lamb, and it seems, so are Kevin’s sons.