Farewell toast will rely on avoiding the dry zone

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It’s admittedly one of the most overused words in the modern-day media – ‘unique.’

But I reckon the pedants will have to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Because it’s highly unlikely anyone else on the planet would immediately associate Rob White – being released by Northamptonshire – with a temperance hotel in Bath.

Don’t worry – nothing sordid.

The summer of 1998 wasn’t a vintage one for the County faithful.

Just think back to the ludicrous non-selection of a second spinner to support Jason Brown at Taunton (not forgetting John Emburey’s head-scratcher of an explanation), plus the least surprising ECB points-deduction of all time, courtesy of the dodgiest of Wantage Road pitches against Sussex.

To escape the general misery I drove down to watch Northamptonshire’s Under-19s take on Somerset in a two-day fixture.

The venue was the famous Landsdown club, whose distinguished former players include WG Grace and Viv Richards, and I duly booked myself into a modest but comfortable hotel in the centre of Bath.

All went well until I asked at reception for directions to the bar. “No alcohol here, sir,” came the polite reply.

I could have blamed it on the misleading small print – had the establishment’s ‘dry’ policy not been stated very clearly in all its literature, which I hadn’t bothered to read.

Ah well, at least there was the cricket.

But Somerset smacked the County’s attack around for 438-8 in sweltering conditions on the first day and our boys looked doomed.

However, the aforementioned Rob White – then 18 – had other ideas.

Showing excellent technique and temperament, and restraining his attacking instincts in the interests of the side, he batted through the best part of two sessions for 128 (‘heroic’ I called it at the time) and solid back-up from Joss Lilley and Darren Culbard earned Northamptonshire an honourable draw.

A year earlier, the Stowe schoolboy with the ‘poetic’ hairstyle had stroked 129 in the ECB Under-17s competition quarter-final against Devon at Holcot, during the campaign that eventually earned Mark Chatfield’s team the national title.

But in terms of context and quality of opposition his knock at WG’s old stamping ground was a big step forward for him.

He duly joined the professional staff in 2000 and made his first-class debut that year in a Northamptonshire side beaten by Oxford University in a last-afternoon run-chase in The Parks.

Your starter for 10 – who captained the County and who was the only century-maker in the game? Toby Bailey and Alec Swann respectively.

White struggled for form in the Second XI and might well have been jettisoned at the end of the summer – only for the newly-formed Northamptonshire Academy to come to his rescue. He was selected as a member of the inaugural intake, along with the likes of Chris Goode and Ross McLean.

Promoted to the Championship side by Bob Carter at the back end of 2002, he made history by scoring 277 not out against Gloucestershire – sharing an opening stand of 375 with fellow Loughborough graduate Mark Powell – in only his fourth appearance in the competition.

Their contrast in styles, the buccaneering stroke-maker and the patient accumulator, prompted optimistic comparisons with the ‘old firm’ of Wayne Larkins and Geoff Cook.

But Powell departed during the Wessels era – and for a while his record-breaking partner expected to suffer the same fate.

In the end, White was kept on at Northampton and found a niche in the Twenty20 (over 1,300 runs with a career strike-rate of nearly 113 runs per 100 balls), although consistency proved elusive in the longer game.

The announcement of his release last week was sad on a personal level but not really surprising.

With the club now (rightly) looking to give opportunities to its younger home-produced cricketers, Rob’s future role at the County Ground was likely to be nothing more than a bit-part.

But he, too, was a product of our own system – hence the widespread regret that he won’t be buckling his swash in Steelbacks’ colours next year.

Hopefully his first-class career isn’t over yet, if he doesn’t want it to be.

Whatever he chooses to do I’ll be drinking a quiet toast this week to one of cricket’s good guys.

Assuming the bar’s open for business, of course…