Durham 154Lancashire 158-7Lancs win by three wickets
Upwardly mobile Durham had the sniff of an upset here, daring to think after demolishing Surrey in the Championship that they could now reach their first one-day semi-final. As Lancashire tottered unsteadily at 35 for 5 - a modest target unexpectedly acquiring daunting proportions - a different outcome was difficult to imagine.
However, when it comes to this type of cricket, such assumptions about Lancashire are made only with reckless disregard for history. No county's record in one-day cricket is more formidable; and few individuals have determined the result of more such games than their match-winner yesterday.
Neil Fairbrother's gold award was the 10th of his career, equalling the county record held by Barry Wood and placing the canny left-hander on the same mark as Ian Botham in Benson and Hedges Cup history. Only six players have won more.
This one, taking Fairbrother to his 11th one-day semi-final, was as richly deserved as any given Lancashire's precarious position, the ball swinging prodigiously during the stickiest passage of a sultry day and Durham bowling with tails up.
John Wood was the most impressive of a quintet of seamers. When it was Fairbrother's turn, he had already removed two of Lancashire's best lines of counter-attack, defeating John Crawley for sheer pace as the Lancashire captain fended to second slip before sending a swerving ball clattering into Andrew Flintoff's off-stump. Michael Atherton had already gone, succumbing to a full-length ball from Melvyn Betts.
Wood claimed what seemed another critical breakthrough as Sourav Ganguly lost out to another inswinger, then Neil Killeen bowled Graham Lloyd, off a bottom edge, leaving Lancashire apparently on the brink of an embarrassing defeat.
However, it is not for nothing that Fairbrother is revered as Lancashire's one-day talisman. Since his first semi-final 16 years ago, the county have reached 10 and won them all, emerging successful in seven of the 10 finals. There are few qualities more valuable than experience and, at 36, Fairbrother's depth of knowledge is considerable. Never for a moment yesterday did composure desert him, although he had the best available ally in Warren Hegg, himself a veteran of many scrapes.
With overs if not wickets in hand there was no need to hurry, which presented a situation these two clearly relished. As Durham's legs wearied, so the ones, twos and threes were carefully picked off. They added 73 in 18 overs, their cause helped by the waywardness of Steve Harmison who sent down five wides in one over.
Hegg was out unluckily - and painfully - when a short ball from Harmison found the stumps via his ribs, and Chris Schofield quickly, a fourth victim for Wood, but Fairbrother found another reliable aide in Ian Austin. In the end the target was achieved in relative comfort, with five overs to spare.
Durham, who missed the chance to take on Gloucestershire in the semi-finals, will rue having failed to build on Simon Katich's 62, who was badly dropped by Ganguly at slip on 21, but otherwise played an attractive innings before top-edging a leg-side pick-up off Schofield, whose attacking approach was rewarded with four wickets and his best one-day figures to date.
From 104 for 2 to 154 all out did not make happy reading, although the atmospheric conditions that made life difficult for Lancashire's top order played a part. Then again, for all the promise of the youthful Ryan Robinson and the 17-year-old Nicky Peng, sometimes nothing beats old-fashioned nous.