Lancashire v Somerset, Refuge Assurance League 1987
Lancashire supporters attending this match weren't to know it, but this game was first of many memorable games the team were involved in under David Hughes' captaincy, as Lancashire won every one-day competition in a three-year period between 1988 and 1990.
This season-1987-the side finished runners-up in a dramatic Championship race with Notts, but the young players pushed into the first team alongside senior pros such as Simmons, Allott and Fowler were inconsistent in the one-day format. The experience gained however, proved to be invaluable.
Hughes had captained the second eleven to the 2ndXI Championship the year before, teaming up with the then second eleven coach Alan Ormrod. The pair were then promoted to first eleven captain and coach following the sacking of manager Jack Bond and coach Peter Lever. It was one of the last acts under Chairman Cedric Rhodes, who abruptly resigned in February 1987 following mounting criticism. Bob Bennett came back to take the helm and steer the club into calmer waters. A new Chairman, a new Captain, a new Coach, and a new era beckoned.....
Most one-day matches which produce a close finish are elevated by spectators, reporters and media in general in to the category 'A Great Match'. A one-wicket or single run victory can remain in the memory for years, and it is not often that a game won by 7 wickets is remembered for any length of time.
Such a match took place at the county ground in the early weeks of the '87 summer. Old Trafford's vast open spaces were populated by around 2,000 Members, and 1,574 supporters who paid £4,684. They were fortunate to witness a forty overs a side encounter, which highlighted all the best features of the old Sunday League format.
David Hughes won the toss and sent the visitors into bat, and Mike Watkinson and Paul Allott opened the bowling.
Wyatt and Felton settled in without ever looking entirely comfortable, and with the total on 30, the ever reliable and accurate Allott won an LBW appeal against Wyatt.
Hardy joined Felton and the second wicket pair added 75. Lancashire's bowling was tight and fielding top class, and the batsmen never threatened to get right on top. Boundaries were scarce, and several times run outs were avoided as the batsmen threw themselves towards the crease, as throws arrowed in towards the stumps.
New Zealand's star batsman Martin Crowe was in a class of his own during his short knock. He stroked the ball to all parts of the ground and started Somerset's overdue acceleration - but then in attacking Watkinson miscued - and Ian Austin took the catch.
Richard Harden then produced a cameo innings of the highest quality. In only four overs he smashed 35, before he went to the well once too often and had his stumps re-arranged by Hughes. Somerset's skipper Vic Marks and wicket keeper Neil Burns then added 36 as the overs ran out - and off the last ball of the innings Allott dismissed Marks. 227 for 6 off 40 overs, and Lancashire required 228 at 5.7 per over.
Informed chat in the press box and commentary positions concluded that Lancashire would have to bat well to win, as openers Gehan Mendis and Graeme Fowler prepared to face the new ball. Mendis had started the Refuge Assurance season in good form, with 48 versus Glamorgan, an unbeaten 37 in the rain ruined game with Surrey at the Oval, and 43, seven days earlier in the Old Trafford victory over Hampshire, but this time round he failed, defeated by a fine delivery from Neil Mallender.
Former captain John Abrahams helped Fowler add 32 before he was dismissed, and that brought in Neil Fairbrother. He had scored a century against Glamorgan three weeks earlier, and then made 74 at New Road versus Worcestershire on the opening day of the season He was in prime form, and was soon in to his stride, nudging singles down to third man and fine leg in his own inimitable way.
Fowler, batting with a runner, but encouraged by his partner, found his best form, despite struggling to move into line because of his injury. He found the middle of the bat more often than not, and frustrated the Somerset bowlers to the extent that their line and length suffered.
Runs came without too many risks being taken. Fairbrother accelerated as only he can. He found gaps where none seemed to exist, and the fielders were soon spread far and wide. They were placed under intense pressure by confident calling and swift running between the wickets. To their credit they did not wilt, but long before the end must have realised it was not to be their day.
The batsmen had to keep an eye on the overs of course, but they always seemed to have the target and runs required equation just right. Both reached their fifties off 55 deliveries (Fowler 59 minutes and Fairbrother 53), and then began to produce shots all round the wicket. The roar which greeted Neil Fairbrother's century might have been produced by a capacity gate - 89 deliveries, 93 minutes, 7x4; 3x6 - and when the persevering Mallender had him caught by Crowe with just ten needed for victory, his journey from crease to pavilion was one to remember.
Fowler also reached his ton - 116 deliveries, 140 minutes, 10 x 4; 1 x 6 - and he and David Hughes were together when the target was reached off the second ball of the final over. As Fowler hobbled off, the ground again erupted, and all the rest of the Lancashire team crowded on to the dressing room balcony, to add to the reception accorded to the former England opener. A 'Great Match' for all who witnessed the seven wicket demolition of Somerset, and certainly a Sunday afternoon to remember for Graeme Fowler and Neil Fairbrother.