Cricket: Wasim big loss for Lancashire

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Lancashire 196 and 434

Durham 158

WHILE DURHAM were left contemplating the near impossible task of having to score 473 runs for victory thanks chiefly to a superb century by Neil Fairbrother, Lancashire were given food for thought by another of their left-handers yesterday. After a decade, give or take the odd Pakistan tour to these shores, Wasim Akram has announced he will not be returning to Old Trafford next season.

The all-rounder wants to focus his energies on the World Cup, which is being staged in England next year, leaving Lancashire contemplating the unexpected - finding a replacement for Wasim, although not necessarily on a permanent basis. The club is not closing the door on the great man's county career, and if they miss out on the Championship this season there is every likelihood he would want to return for the millennium.

Wasim's record since his debut in 1988 suggests he will be a hard act to follow. Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan is one name being touted, but whoever comes in will have to work in the shadow of more than 300 wickets for Lancashire at an average of 21.69, and Wasim's two half centuries in this match took his total of first-class runs for the county to within an ace of 3,000.

His 13th fifty for Lancashire late in the day brought the stoical, heavily- wrapped crowd to its feet with three thunderous sixes, the second one long and hard enough to smash the headlight of a BBC radio repo-rter's car parked behind the press box. When Wasim is in this mood, nowhere is safe.

The same could be said for Fairbrother and Graham Lloyd, who also scored a hundred. Durham, trailing by 38 runs on the first innings, found that out the hard way. Fairbrother was first in the queue, creaming the attack to all parts of the Riverside ground. Although it was Fairbrother's second hundred of the season and the 39th of his career, it was his maiden century against Durham. Only Kent is missing for a full set against the first- class counties.

As masterful as Fairbrother is in the one-day game, this in-nings marked him down for what he really is, a superb all-round batsman, and his entry into affairs yesterday morning was just the lift Lancashire needed. Nathan Wood's pain-staking effort was admirable, but Lancashire needed rapid runs.

Wood was on 12 when Fairbrother arrived at the crease. By the time the former England batsman reached his hundred two hours later, having threatened to achieve the feat of scoring a century before lunch, Wood had advanced his score by a pedestrian 19, carved and chipped out of 81 deliveries. The shame of it for Wood was that he fell when he was just two runs short of a well-deserved fifty after nearly four hours.

By then the pair had put on 172 for the third wicket and Fairbrother was unbeaten on 133. Then came the onslaught by Graham Lloyd and Wasim which took the match way beyond Durham's reach. Lloyd reached his first hundred of the season off 112 balls with a six and 14 fours and helped put on 128 in just 21 overs with Wasim.