Fairbrother crowned the one-day prince

Stephen Brenkley appreciates a player who has mastered the art of one-day cricket
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When Neil Fairbrother walked out to bat at Lord's yesterday he was greeted with expectant applause. A frisson of excitement was detectable among the Lancashire contingent in the crowd, matched only by the clear apprehension of the Northamptonshire support. Here was the one-day batsman par excellence, shuffling deceptively to the wicket to put his side in command.

Fairbrother let nobody down. His was the most significant innings of the day and if Lancashire's fourth win in the Benson and Hedges Cup Final was a collective effort, the whole team must have been anxious for him to play as and when he did. Ian Austin justifiably won the gold award for 9.3 overs of splendid seam bowling.

His removal of both openers made it a mountainous struggle for Northamptonshire, and while they eased themselves out of the foothills, they were never in sight of the summit of their ambitions. Austin spoke of his England one-day ambitions later, and his captain, Mike Watkinson, said of him: "He's probably the bloke in our side you would expect to put the ball in the right place." Had Fairbrother departed quickly, however, Austin and his bowling colleagues may not have had a sufficient total to make any effort worthwhile.

There have been some suppositions made lately that Fairbrother is not what he was, as if retirement were beckoning. But he is only 32, the prime for a player like him, even in limited overs cricket, and while he has been around for 14 years his desire to succeed is intact. His second scoring shot demonstrated his capacity to meet the requirements still thrust upon him. He made room for himself outside off-stump, all but ran towards the ball and swatted it over mid-off for four.

The gauntlet thus having been hurled down, the busy left-hander proceeded to play the game his way - busily. He did not take it out of Northamptonshire's reach but their irritation was discernible as he flicked off his pads to long-leg and continually squeezed to third-man. Hardly a ball was wasted, and when it was there to drive he was adept at finding the gap in the covers.

It is a pity Fairbrother never made it in Test matches. He has been a one-day prince and a five-day pauper, his performances alone seeming to confirm the two forms do indeed demand differing skills. He had 16 half- centuries in the cup before yesterday and at no stage did he seem likely to fail to take the number to 17. The delight on David Capel's face when he bowled him - still nine balls left and damage to be inflicted - was obvious.

Fairbrother's 70-ball innings - important though it was as the rest of Lancashire's middle order got in and got out and the anchorman Mike Atherton shipped out by pulling to mid-wicket - left plenty in the match.

This was the first 50-overs final. Nobody quite knew what an unattainable target was except that 246 probably wasn't it. Northamptonshire could be adjudged to have got out of jail in keeping the score to such a level. They did not bowl accurately or, at times, intelligently, a rule to which Curtly Ambrose and John Emburey were the exceptions.

Their start in pursuit was dreadful, but in Robert Bailey it seemed they had found their Fairbrother. He has scored every bit as heavily as the Lancastrian in this competition and had already struck two centuries in it this summer. The way in which he played made it look as though a third could not be ruled out until he played a poor shot. Fairbrother has been this way before. He may well be back again.