Cricket: Atherton leaves his cares behind

Lancashire 459-4 v Surrey

For whatever reason, Michael Atherton was a changed man. His stroke play was crisp and decisive, his judgement good, his footwork excellent and at long last he managed to turn batting back into a sideways-on art. When he was caught behind seven overs before tea, he had made 149, by some distance his best score of the season.

It may have been because, a couple of Hollioakes apart, there was not an Australian in sight. Or perhaps it was the product of an untroubled mind with all difficult decisions behind him, but certainly Surrey's bowling, the worst I have seen from a county this season, gave more than just a helping hand.

Gone, and one can only pray that it is forever, was the shuffling, slightly myopic looking figure of most of the summer who finished every stroke on the back foot squared up with his toes pointing at the bowler like a French cricketer. Let us hope that the memory of his innings will stay with him in the West Indies.

Surrey were without Chris Lewis - he had found a niggling hip this time; Saqlain Mushtaq has gone to Toronto to play against India in the Sahara Cup; and Graham Thorpe, whose bowling might just have come in handy, was having a rest. Apart from a tidy opening spell by Martin Bicknell, those who were left to bowl for Surrey - in all, 10 were used - served up helping after helping of unmitigated codswallop.

After one early snick through the slips, Atherton began to play his strokes as he all too seldom trusts himself to do. Drives, hooks, strokes off his legs and square cuts echoed round the ground.

His left-handed partner, Nathan Wood, the son of Barry of England, Lancashire and Derbyshire, played in a rather less compelling manner but he has impressive, tenacious qualities and helped him add 259 for the first wicket, a record for Lancashire against Surrey. Wood was missed three times and held on to reach his first hundred which is such an important landmark.

Atherton faced 198 balls and hit 20 fours and two sixes before being brilliantly caught far down the leg-side by Alec Stewart. John Crawley batted delightfully before the left-arm spinner, Rupesh Amin, turned one more than he expected. Then, just before the end, Wood slashed to backward point after helping himself to 20 fours and facing 316 balls.

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