Cricket: Fairbrother carries the fight

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The Independent Online
Derbyshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .490-8 dec

Lancashire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83 and 378-3

LANCASHIRE have played almost as two different teams here and although Derbyshire still hold the whip hand, the ignominy of defeat inside three days need no longer trouble their captain Mike Watkinson. Indeed, as Derbyshire's bowlers flagged under a fierce sun yesterday afternoon, it seemed more than possible that victory might elude them.

No such thought intruded on their confidence on Friday evening, when Lancashire were bowled out for 83 in under two hours and followed on 407 behind. But Lancashire fought back splendidly with a second innings given substance by Neil Fairbrother's 136, the left- hander's first century of the summer and only his third in three years.

Fairbrother struck 16 fours and four sixes, rewarding the faith of a crowd who would not have been surprised had it all been over by tea with some superlative entertainment. But though the former England batsman's performance had a touch of the cavalier about it from time to time it was graft that had pulled Lancashire from the brink. By the close, Derbyshire's lead had almost been cancelled out, with Lancashire only three wickets down.

The important factor in this change of direction has been the pitch here, one which persuaded both sides to field two specialist spinners, but which was as flat and true on the third day as it had been on the first. It only served to emphasise how brilliantly Phillip DeFreitas had performed in taking six for 39 on Friday evening, giving an exhibition of fast bowling to whet the appetite of any England supporter with the historic first Test against South Africa looming.

There was no reason, save perhaps for a psychological one, why Lancashire's powerful batting line up should succumb again with so little resistance, but Derbyshire's ambitions had to be met with backbone none the less.

Mike Atherton, the England captain, set the right example with his first prolonged innings for Lancashire this summer and although both he and John Crawley fell leg before to Dominic Cork in the same over, in each case paying for lack of footwork, the dismissal of Crawley for a duck was the only blot for Lancashire. After scoring four in the first innings, Crawley hardly advertised his England credentials, although the case for his inclusion against South Africa is already strong.

There was the danger that two wickets in close proximity might spark another catastrophe but Jason Gallian and Fairbrother ensured that it did not.

The former, in his first season of Championship cricket after qualifying as an 'English' player through residence, looked a fine prospect but Fairbrother carried the fight to Derbyshire most effectively. One of his sixes, struck against the off- spin of Matthew Vandrau, was hit so far that it almost threatened the wildlife in Stanley Park zoo, adjacent to the ground. He was going for something similar when Matthew Taylor, the left- arm spinner, had him caught at deep mid-off after a third-wicket partnership of 207.

(Photograph omitted)

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