Atherton's class exposes Durham

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reports from Old Trafford

Durham 249 and 432

Lancashire 370 and 314-2

Lancashire won by 8 wickets

If, as many people believe, this is to be Lancashire's year for the Championship, they will not enjoy many more straightforward, uncomplicated days than they did here yesterday. Needing 312 to beat Durham, they coasted home in 83 overs on the back of Mike Atherton's first championship century for two seasons.

Those who watched Atherton tucking into the half volleys and other variations with growing relish in making the 36th hundred of his career would find it hard to fathom why he averaged only 23 and hit only one half century last summer. Well, this time he has had a longer post-tour recuperation and, equally valid, this remained an excellent pitch on which the limitations of Durham's bowling were rather exposed.

It was hard not to feel for them. Mike Roseberry, their new captain, has spelled out forcibly what he expects and, to a certain extent, they produced some of it here, but against a batting line-up like Lancashire's the loss of one bowler plus the lack of experienced spin proved too much of a handicap.

Simon Brown's ankle injury was more serious than initially diagnosed and his only contribution was to depart first ball to Glen Chapple. After that, not even one of Churchill's finest rallying wartime speeches, played in the dresssing rooms before the start, could inspire Durham.

On such a bleak, chill morning Brown might not have swung the ball much, but the variation his left-arm over would have provided was badly missed. Once Atherton and Jason Gallian had seen off John Wood's lively and occasionally unlucky new-ball spell, there were few problems.

Wood, as ever, extracted plenty of bounce from Peter Marron's wonderful, bone-hard pitch and it was one of the day's little ironies that the ball with which he had Gallian caught behind was not one of his best.

Another came when Wood had John Crawley dropped at long leg off an attempted hook before he had scored. The fielder was John Morris, whose innings of 169, spread over some five and a half hours, had virtually single-handedly kept his side in a game which their first-innings frailties ultimately cost them.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, Morris spent three hours over his last 60-odd runs, which at least gave Durham something to bowl at; but on this pitch every chance had to be snapped up and Morris looked suitably chagrined when he put Gallian down.

You could hardly say that episode alone cost Durham the match, but it had a devastating effect on morale and once James Boiling, who is trying to resurrect his career as an off-spinner after leaving Surrey, found that nothing much happened for him on this pitch, Durham, Atherton and the robust Gallian realised that the game was up.