Cricket: Atherton has to cut out hooking

Henry Blofeld sees England's senior batsmen let themselves down
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Mike Atherton let himself and England down at Headingley, when after 226 minutes of dedicated defiance, he forgot the one lesson he should have learned above all others from Old Trafford. When Paul Reiffel pitched short, he could resist the temptation no more and went for the hook.

It is a stroke he is unable to control. At Old Trafford he had been caught behind hooking at one from Glenn McGrath which was going down the leg side. Now, it was as if he was giving fine leg catching practice.

The lesson was underlined in the third Test by Steve Waugh when he made those two magnificent hundreds. Waugh has eliminated from his armoury all the strokes he thinks may get him out. The square cut was the only flat-batted stroke he played.

It is this sort of dedicated self-discipline that singles out a great player from simply a good one. Atherton should realise that the hook is not a percentage stroke for him and cut it out of his repertoire.

In the conditions at Headingley, England were clearly going to need a long innings from him and he responded magnificently until he had that sudden rush of blood.

But he was not the only one at fault. Graham Thorpe played two good pulls off Jason Gillespie. When, in his next over, Gillespie pitched short, Thorpe went for another pull with almost reckless abandon. The ball was significantly further up than the other two and was through him well before he had completed the stroke.

When England's main batsman lose concentration like this, it is a major worry for it means that they are less likely to go on to play the big match-winning or match-saving innings.

We know Atherton can do this, but his insurance rates will rise if he continues to hook.