Brief profile of Neil Fairbrother
by Matthew Reed
DateLine: 13th February 2006
Physically diminutive in height, but at times a colossus with the bat, the 5í8Ē tall Neil Fairbrother was a lynchpin of the Lancashire side in both the 1980ís and 1990ís, being an absolutely essential part of their outstanding one-day team. In the traditionally slow to learn environment of English limited-overs cricket, he was one of the first batsmen with both the inclination and ability to kill off a bowling attack with either ferociously swiped boundaries or through the slow death of gently dabbed, quickly run singles. Such an ability made him ideal to bat at no.4 or no.5. The fact that no other English batsman came close to matching his ability to mix and match the long handle with the nurdle allowed him to play in three World Cups, the last of which came when he was 35. With an average of 39 in 75 matches, he was conspicuously successful in ODIís. However, despite consistently scoring heavily in the Championship for Lancashire, his Test chances were limited. A duck on debut against Pakistan at his home ground of Old Trafford got him off on the wrong foot, and seven of his first nine innings ended with him out for 3 or less. His only Test innings of note was a defiant, and ultimately futile 83 at Madras in 1992/3, as India spun England to an innings defeat. Although his reputation as the best limited-overs batsman in England may have sufficiently pigeonholed him to limit his chances at Test level, even in the era before laptop analysis of opponents Test attacks knew that tempting him to fish and flirt outside off-stump was a good way to send him back to the pavilion.
His career best score of 366 (off just 405 balls) was made against Surrey in 1990 (and is still the highest ever score made at The Oval), although that was in a match where the word comatose is a massively inadequate adjective to describe both the balls and the pitch used. He top-scored for England in the 1992 World Cup Final, although after the 1995/6 competition his international career went on hiatus for two and a half years. Despite looking good and scoring well in the tournaments building up to the 1999 World Cup, his campaign on English soil was a mixture of afternoons with his feet up or with him desperately trying to engineer a fightback after a top-order collapse. His form left him at county level in 2002, where a disappointing season in the Championship was dwarfed by the fact that he implausibly averaged just 4.54 in limited-overs cricket that year. By now, his player agency was taking shape, and to this day he still numbers Andrew Flintoff amongst his clients. Indeed, Fairbrother is widely credited as being a driving force behind Flintoffís transformation from an overweight underachiever to a formidable Test all-rounder. However, it is a sobering thought that the total limited-overs batsmanship which he developed, and his intrinsic understanding of how to pace his own and a teamís innings has still to be successfully aped by many contemporary England batsmen, despite it now being 20 years since the little wizard from Warrington first displayed such a knack.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)