Cricket: Atherton anchors advance

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The Independent Online
Warwickshire 203 and 11-0

Lancashire 415-8 dec

ONCE again in their curious season, Lancashire won the skirmish for bonus points. Claiming the prize for victory in the major battle depends on whether Warwickshire can show an urgent batting improvement on an albeit flat pitch.

In 19 matches, Lancashire have taken full bowling points eight times and a maximum for batting on 11 occasions, including each of the past five games. The alarming shortfall has been only two wins but their nostrils are twitching at today's prospects.

Warwickshire look ripe for the taking. Their heads dropped, along with four catches, in the heat as Michael Atherton's innings of 130, his 24th first-class hundred, third of the season and first of his career against Warwickshire, was the bedrock of a first-innings lead of 212.

Tim Munton saw three catches spilled off his bowling, the easiest by Allan Donald, at slip, and Paul Smith, at deep square-leg. Warwickshire finished the day footsore and frustrated and their title challenge, like several others, looks theoretical rather than practical.

Neil Smith, the off-spinner, still bowled with commendable economy, and Roger Twose prompted a waddle in mid-innings by dismissing Michael Watkinson and Ian Austin in successive overs. Lancashire marched on remorselessly, but perhaps not swiftly enough, before giving Warwickshire five overs' batting, which they survived.

The difference between Essex, the leaders, and the rest is the pace of their advance when building a lead. They would have rocketed along towards 500 in similar batting time, giving Warwickshire a bigger chasm from which to clamber.

Nick Speak's 16th first-class half- century in his golden summer and an innings of 74 from John Crawley were integral parts of Lancashire's grand design before Dexter Fitton was deprived of a half-century by the declaration.

The familiar threat of Donald was not reflected in his figures but Atherton's solid but unspectacular strokeplay was, in his statistics. He batted for five hours and struck 21 fours off 268 balls.