Neil Fairbrother, born on September 9, 1963, was a vital member of the England One-Day International (ODI) team in the 1990s. Although he dominated the one-day game, his Test record is disappointing. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the southpaw’s career.
When you are named after a great personality, there are always expectations invariably attached to your existence. And, if you indeed walk in their footsteps, those hopes touch the sky. Named after the great Australian batsman, cricketing ambitions were probably thrust on Neil Harvey Fairbrother when his mother named him after her favourite cricketer. The southpaw did go on to represent England for over 12 years, but only carved a niche in the one-day arena. In that time span, he did have a few memorable moments that continue to define him as a cricketer.
Born on September 9, 1963, Fairbrother made his debut for Lancashire’s second XI eight days short of his 17th birthday. Over the next two years, he continued playing for numerous age group sides including the National Association of Young Cricketers, which played youth teams from other countries as well. Although he made his First-Class debut in 1982, he got an extended run in the Lancashire side in 1983 and got his highest score of 94 against Warwickshire. He scored his first hundred the next season in a game against Derbyshire, albeit in a lost cause.
During the 1985 and 1986 seasons, Fairbrother grew in stature and became a vital cog in the Lancashire — scoring three tons apiece. He finished the 1986 season with 1,217 runs at an average of 48.68 with three tons and eight fifties. In the List-A games, he had scored four fifties as well. That won him a berth in the England side for the Sharjah Cup in 1987 and made his debut against India on April 2, scoring only 14. He played three matches in that tournament with a highest score of 32 against Australia.
Then came the big moment in his cricketing career — Fairbrother won the Test cap against Pakistan in June 1987 at Manchester. It was a disastrous debut for him as he was leg-before for naught off the fourth ball he faced. In an interview to AllOutCricket, Fairbrother said, “I can remember it didn’t go very well! Faced three or four balls, didn’t hit one and wandered off! I’d never seen reverse swing until that day. But you know, those moments come and go and you either grab them or you don’t.”
However, Fairbrother continued to perform during the domestic season and managed to hold on to his spot in the England side for the tours to Pakistan in late 1987 and New Zealand early the following year. But, his form in Test cricket turned out to be disastrous as he scored only five runs in his first three Tests. In the one-day arena, he did impress with a couple of fifties on the tour to New Zealand. But, he had to wait until 1990 for his next shot at the highest level.
The 1990 season was a great one for Fairbrother as he averaged over 60. During that season, he scored a mammoth 366 off only 407 balls to lead a strong reply to Surrey’s 707. Lancashire managed to take the lead by plundering 863. That facilitated his return to the England Test side. On comeback to the Test side for the full series against New Zealand at home in 1990, he certainly bettered his tally with scores of 33 not out and 19 — which certainly wasn’t enough.
When the West Indies came around in 1991, Fairbrother was recalled to the England one-day side. In the third One-Day International (ODI) at Lord’s, he smashed 113. Chancing his luck, a few edges went past the slips. But, once he got his eye in, the bat flowed through and met the ball with minimal footwork. Chasing 265, England were reduced to 48 for two when Fairbrother joined Graeme Hick. In tandem they turned the game and Fairbrother’s 113 ensured England sailed through with overs to spare and seal a 3-0 series victory. This remains his only ton in international cricket.
For the 1992 World Cup, Fairbrother had set himself in the middle-order. It was a tournament that saw him score quite consistently. Leading up to the final against Pakistan at Melbourne, he already had scores of 63 against Sri Lanka at Ballarat and an unbeaten 75 against South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. During their failed run-chase of 250 in the final, Fairbrother was the only England batsman to score a fifty. He walked in at 59 for three and stabilized the England innings. When it looked like they would recover, Wasim Akram snared Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis off consecutive deliveries to turn the tide in Pakistan’s favour. Fairbrother was a silent spectator at the other end and his 62 off 70 balls was in vain as England fell short by 22 runs.
Fairbrother had firmly established himself in the one-day side, but a Test berth remained elusive. In 1993, he was given a lifeline when he was picked for the Tests in India. In the second Test at Chennai, he scored a hard fought 83 in the first innings and it promised to change his Test career. But, he only played one more game, which was against Sri Lanka later that year. He was in the one-day setup until the 1996 World Cup and was on the sidelines thereafter.
In 1998, when England sent a weaker side to the Wills International Cup (which later became the ICC Champions Trophy) in Dhaka, Fairbrother was picked. On his return to the side, he scored crucial 56 runs to rescue England from 95 for five and supported the captain Adam Hollioake. He was then picked for the one-day tri-series Down Under after the Ashes and answered the calls with a very consistent run. His consistency was rewarded as he was selected for the 1999 World Cup in England.
England were crashed out of the competition before the Super Six stage and it ended Fairbrother’s international career. In 75 ODIs, he had scored 2,092 runs at an average of 39.47 with one ton and 16 fifties. The record in Tests did not quite reflect his ability: 219 runs in 10 Tests at an average of 15.64 with the lone fifty.
Lancashire continued to get the best out of Fairbrother even after his international days were behind him. Take the example of the 2001 season when he scored four hundreds in the county matches. However, after a modest season in 2002, he moved away from the game.
Post retirement, Fairbrother has been a player agent for numerous cricketers which includes Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan. One would remember him for a few moments in the one-day game, and with an average of 41.22 in First-Class cricket, a lot was expected of him in Tests. Speaking to AllOutCricket, he said, “I didn’t grab the Test experience but I did grab the one-day experience, and overall I’m happy to have played as much international cricket as I did.”