Cricket: Atherton in Test form

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Lancashire. . .442

Durham. . . . .515-9 dec and 34-0

LANCASHIRE are expecting Wasim Akram to play in their Benson and Hedges fixture at The Oval on Tuesday despite hints from the Caribbean that he needed 'several weeks' rest' for a back strain.

Pakistan's captain was having treatment in Manchester yesterday and one report had him appearing for the county against Durham today in the Equity Sunday League; in the pavilion it was said that the committee is seeking a sponsored ambulance for its fast bowlers this summer.

On the field Lancashire had to dig themselves out of a mighty hole caused by their inability to dismiss Durham for less than 500. It is true that this is a mysterious pitch, helpful to the bowlers on the first day, drying, quickening becoming increasingly bland yet offering a little variable bounce in Durham's second innings.

Once Mike Atherton had gone, after his second century of the season, compiled in almost five hours, 19 fours, three more wickets fell for 16 runs and it was left to Lancashire's last pair, Alex Barnett, 22, and Glen Chapple, 19, to steer them past the ignominy of being the first county to be asked to follow on by Durham. Having achieved this brief glory the pair then went on impertinently for another 28 overs and 82 runs, chopping Durham's lead to 73.

David Graveney spent the morning probing for turn from the Stretford End, varying his loop and length, attacking Neil Fairbrother in the rough, dropping in the occasional tempter. He succeeded in luring Fairbrother into indiscretion, but just failed to hold a sharp return catch, and seduced Graham Lloyd into trying to clear extra cover.

Fairbother eventually went to a smart slip catch and by lunch Lancashire needed another 159 to be safe, as it turned out, no mere bagatelle. Atherton remained unruffled, his boundaries mostly square either side of the wicket, as his partners were gradually eliminated.

Ian Botham won a reward for another economical spell when Warren Hegg, misty-eyed at the sight of a wide half-volley, smashed it straight to extra cover. Lancashire were 33 short of their target as Atherton, facing the second new ball, gave second slip the chance to make an acrobatic catch - solid confirmation of form that will bring him selection, if not a place, for the first Test here.

As to where this match is going, that is another question; a declaration behind would have put the onus on Gaveney to set a chase.