Cricket: Fairbrother salvages pennant prospects

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 218 Nottinghamshire 61-4

THIS IS not the best time of the year for Championship contenders to have an off day and Lancashire looked anything but candidates for the title against the Nottinghamshire seam attack. They were given a reasonable start too, but only Neil Fairbrother made any impression after that.

Nottinghamshire then lost their three wickets for 17 against the moving ball and Paul Johnson followed, to one which Ian Austin bought back into him before bad light intervened with four overs left. By then, Lancashire will have felt that they had got away with their poor batting.

The chief executioner for Nottinghamshire was Chris Tolley, who took 6 for 74 with some admirably sustained left-arm over the wicket bowling at just above medium pace. His control was excellent after one or two exploratory overs at the start.

The first 21 overs of the day told a different story. Bad balls abounded and John Crawley and Mark Chilton enjoyed themselves. There was a plentiful supply of half-volleys for Crawley to play away off his legs to the mid- wicket boundary to the air of a contented man whistling his favourite tune.

The 50 came in the 17th over and, at 64, Chilton, who had played pleasantly off the front foot, came half forward to Tolley and the ballooning catch was held by Graeme Archer to his right at second slip. While Crawley prospered on the legside, he was uncomfortable, as he often is, outside the off, and when he reached to drive Kevin Evans, Archer came up with a beauty, diving low to his right at second slip.

After one rasping square cut, Graham Lloyd propped forward to a ball Tolley swung back into him and was lbw. Andrew Flintoff made us all sit up with a booming straight drive off Tolley before pushing forward to a wide one later in the over and being caught behind.

While all this had been happening, Fairbrother punctuated long periods of defence with a serious off-drive or two. When he was 34 he played forward to Evans and Jason Gallian dropped a simple catch at first slip. This was bad luck on Evans, who bowled 20 good overs straight off either side of lunch. Tolley's fourth wicket came when Warren Hegg popped him up on the leg side of bat and pad, and his sixth two balls later when Wasim Akram stretched forward and Archer held his third catch at second slip.

Ian Austin gave him his fourth, another brilliant effort diving far to his right, pushing forward to Andy Oram, who then bowled Glen Chapple as he came forward to drive. By now, Fairbrother's timing and footwork had come together but immediately after tea he cut Paul Franks onto his off stump when 12 short of his 100, after facing 160 balls and hitting 12 fours.