Atherton's schooling

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The "City of Knowledge" would be a perfect place for Mike Atherton to prove one of cricket's favourite theories.

Palmerston North, where England play a four-day game starting tomorrow against the New Zealand Select XI, earns its title because more than 40 per cent of the local population either teach at or attend one of 70 educational establishments within the district boundaries.

As a Cambridge graduate, Atherton should feel comfortable in such academic surroundings. What he needs more than anything right now is to convince himself that cricket's learned coaches are right when they say that form is temporary while class is permanent.

Atherton experienced the leanest patch of his international career during the dismal trip around Zimbabwe, totalling 196 runs from 13 innings. He had hoped to start rewriting that statistic when England launched their tour of New Zealand in New Plymouth on Friday with a one-day match against an Academy XI but rain prevented him from getting to the crease.

Now, with the First Test only a fortnight and two more warm-up matches away, Atherton knows it is time he found some answers. "Mike has not been at the top of his form but he's working like stink to put that right," said the coach David Lloyd. "A poor run is disappointing for anyone but when you are the captain it's probably a little more serious. A good score from him now would quieten things down a bit and be more than useful."

Atherton is not the only cricketer looking for a good pass mark in Palmerston North. The Kiwi selectors are using this four-day match as a Test trial for the likes of Danny Morrison, Mark Greatbatch and Craig Spearman in the countdown to Auckland on 24 January.

Morrison, the country's most experienced fast bowler, needs to prove his fitness after a groin injury while the batsmen Greatbatch and Spearman are under pressure following their disappointing performances during the November tour of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, if you thought England struggled in Zimbabwe, spare a thought for the women cricketers of Pakistan. They have just conceded 425 runs in 50 overs against the New Zealand provincial side Canterbury, been bowled out for 44 in reply and lost by 381 runs. Room for improvement?