Cricket: Atherton at the double as Hick forces the pace

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England 469-6 dec Australian XI 30-0

ONLY THREE hours' play was possible on the second day in Hobart as rain and drizzle swept in off the southern ocean. Yet if one day is enough to know everything, a theory once held by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a fraction is certainly enough to confirm long-held beliefs about Michael Atherton and Graeme Hick, who scored double and single centuries respectively.

The first thing that must be said is that the strike power of an Australian XI who were missing three front-line bowlers was not heavy-duty. But if Hick merely reinforced the view that he is a flat-track bully by marmalising the back-up bowlers to all parts of the ground and beyond, the fact that Atherton could not change gear in his chanceless and unbeaten 210 was equally corroborative.

In contrast to Hick, who tends to dominate a substandard attack, Atherton has not the means to ride roughshod over inferior bowling. A batsman with a mid-size array of shots, Atherton's power comes not from his weight of stroke, which relies on timing anyway, but from his mental strength.

Total concentration is all he knows and it is the main reason why there is such a disparity between his performances for England and Lancashire. Unlike some, he cannot simply drop a level and still compete favourably, which is why his 483-minute innings here, sans Paul Reiffel and co, still had a decent market value, something that could not immediately be said of Hick's run-a-ball 125.

Some similarities can be drawn, however, and both needed runs, though whether Hick can draw as much succour from the occasion as the acting captain will soon be tested on Boxing Day at the MCG.

Atherton, whose first double century this was, relishes his reputation for being perverse and the milestone came with an ungainly hack back over the bowler's head. Prior to that, and apart from some delightful cover- driven fours off Brendon Julian, he had slowed to a crawl as he approached his previous career-best of 199, made against Durham at Gateshead in 1992.

There cannot be many grounds further apart than Gateshead and the Bellerive Oval in Hobart on which to register your two highest first-class scores. And it was a distance Hick clearly tried to cover as he launched Michael Bevan's left-arm wrist spin for huge successive sixes. In fact, in the time it took Atherton to go from 194 to 198, Hick advanced his own score from 42 to 96 in a flurry of big hitting.

Dropped at midwicket by Stuart Law when he was 94, the brutality of Hick's second fifty, which took 28 balls, was at odds with the first, which was cautious and subdued and took 93. Perhaps Hick was trying to prove a point by showing Atherton he can whack it when he wants to: remember it was Atherton who declared on Hick in Sydney four years ago, when the batsman was on 98.

At one stage, Hick was treating the bowling as he might in a benefit match, which was ironic considering that one of the main reasons for the Aussie selectors picking a strong side was to make a point about the relative weakness of county opposition encountered when other countries tour England.

A glimpse of why the Aussies generally lord it over us came from one of the many substitute fielders, Nathan Webb. Just 17, he fielded superbly, holding two catches in the deep including the wicket of Hick with a difficult, swirling take at long-off.

It would be hard to imagine an English 17-year-old looking quite at home as Webb did. Ben Hollioake, four years older than him, certainly did not, the Surrey all-rounder recording his second duck in four days. Coming in to replace Hick, Hollioake edged his first ball to the wicketkeeper. Any thoughts that he might bat at seven in the next Test must surely be shelved.

The Australian selectors have lost patience with Ricky Ponting, who has made only 47 runs in four innings in the current Ashes series, and have replaced him with Darren Lehmann for the Fourth Test in Melbourne, starting on Boxing Day.

AUSTRALIA 12 (for Fourth Test, v England, Melbourne, starting 26 Dec): *M A Taylor, M J Slater, J L Langer, M E Waugh, S R Waugh, D S Lehmann, I A Healy, D W Fleming, S C G MacGill, C R Miller, G D McGrath, J N Gillespie.


Second day; England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

Overnight: 298 for 3

*M A Atherton not out 210

G A Hick c sub b Bevan 125

B C Hollioake c Gilchrist b Julian 0

W K Hegg c sub b Bevan 4

Extras (lb5, w2, nb6) 13

Total (for 6 dec, 126.1 overs) 469

Fall: 1-57, 2-125, 3-265, 4-460, 5-460, 6-469.

Did not bat: D G Cork, A J Tudor, A R C Fraser, P M Such.

Bowling: Kasprowicz 18.3-2-67-0; Reiffel 1.3-0-4-0; Julian 32-6-98-1; Blewett 24-2-73-1; Law 21-4-84-1; Bevan 23.1-3-94-3; Elliott 5-0-34-0; Lehmann 1-0-10-0.

AUSTRALIA XI - First Innings

M T G Elliott not out 14

G S Blewett not out 11

Extras (lb2, nb3) 5

Total (for 0, 11 overs) 30

To bat: C J Richards, *D S Lehmann, S G Law, M G Bevan, A C Gilchrist, P R Reiffel, B P Julian, M S Kasprowicz, G R Robertson.

Bowling: Tudor 6-3-12-0; Fraser 5-2-16-0.

Umpires: S G Davies and P Parker.