Atherton lets chance slip

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 296-5 v Leicestershire

If Michael Atherton, the England captain, had been only making his way in the game, he would probably have cursed this early-season week when selectors may be at their most impressionable. Hundreds count in the eye- catching zone, and Atherton managed to follow a small-print 98 against Kent at Canterbury on Monday with an 87 yesterday.

Atherton's centuries against counties in first-class matches total 23 - seven of them against Yorkshire. Leicestershire remain on his wanted list, along with six others, to complete a full set of 17 counties (with the exception of his own).

Statistics apart, Atherton looked an almost automatic and potentially authentic hundred-maker until attempting a casual sweep to a full-length ball from Phil Simmons, and being palpably leg-before. Atherton departed to what became the last delivery before tea, having struck 11 fours from 232 balls in a subdued innings which testified to the belief that this pitch will turn, probably, to Lancashire's benefit.

These may have been early skirmishes, yet few four-day games have been launched by a wicket falling to a stumping, though Jason Gallian's advance down the pitch to Adrian Pierson was almost borrowed from the last, frantic over of a Sunday thrash.

Three batsmen, Nick Speak and Graham Lloyd as well as Atherton, made half-centuries, but none reached a hundred on a chilling day, as Dickie Bird MBE, the umpire of multiple mysterious mannerisms, introduced a version of the standing upright back-stroke, albeit on dry land, just to keep warm.

Darren Maddy, bowling medium-pace, took his first Championship wickets, adding another item to what is now in his opening batsman's bag. He accepted a hot return catch from Speak and had Michael Watkinson, Lancashire's captain, taken at short extra cover by the diving Simmons.

Maddy's initial return was two wickets for one run in five overs before Lloyd completed a half-century from 62 balls in an innings adding purpose to Lancashire's progress.

Alan Mullally, the left-arm seamer with England possibilities, finished without a wicket yet bowled a forthright opening spell. David Millns lured John Crawley into following the fifth ball after lunch and edging a catch - a melancholy end to an innings of merit.

Lancashire lacked the injured Neil Fairbrother and Glen Chapple, who is today undergoing a scan on the knee which caused him problems last summer. Otherwise, Lancashire's collective day was fulfilling despite some individual frustrations along the way.