Cricket: Atherton the sublime centurion

Texaco Trophy: England captain and Hollioake send Ashes warning to Aussies as they clinch the one-day series
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New England have not yet arrived but they have made a stunning start to their long, arduous journey. The new administration made no foolish promises in their manifesto but their combination of experienced survivors and new blood have already begun to deliver an uplifting package.

One-day cricket may not be the real thing and there remains the suspicion that Australia are keeping their powder dry. But England again played positive, exciting cricket yesterday to secure the Texaco Trophy by two matches to nil with one to play at Lord's today. The ecstatic response which greeted their six-wicket win with 10 balls left will pale into insignificance if they can recapture the Ashes.

Victory was by no means certain until the final overs - 27 runs came off the last 18 balls of the game - but it was magnificently marshalled by England's captain, Michael Atherton. He was still there at the end, unbeaten after facing 149 balls and striking 10 boundaries of the utmost control. When the winning runs were hit he was at the bowler's end and the man who brought home the silverware in this potentially exciting new age was also one of its newer recruits, Adam Hollioake. He was brimming with purpose and self-confidence once more, finished the match with consecutive boundaries and completed his second successive unbeaten half-century.

It would be daft to put pressure on the chap - though he appears to prosper on it - but England may have found a cricketer here. He is talented, vastly assured, seems also to be blessed with the priceless commodity of luck (witness the way he took a wicket when England needed one late in Australia's innings and the manner in which he was dropped as the chase started late in England's) and it will be difficult to leave him out of the side for the First Test now.

Still it was Atherton who plotted this triumph. He has been openly criticised for his limited limited-overs returns and many experts have questioned his right to a place in the team. But Atherton has made a career out of responding to such calumny and he was at his stubborn, immovable, calm best here.

There was an early blaze of runs in partnership with Alec Stewart after Nick Knight went early, adjudged lbw for the second time in the series, but once Stewart was out after some thrilling strokes Atherton merely played the old, trick of placing the ball into gaps, constantly angling his bat and running, and waiting for the bad ball. Regularly, he and Hollioake consulted to check progress. No doubt Atherton will not become over-excited about it, but it was quietly uplifting stuff.

It was needed, too, for while Australia's total of 249 was marginally short of what was required it was also more than they might have mustered. Michael Bevan played marvellously for them and compiled his second one- day century - controlled, composed with a touch of left handed class. His fifth-wicket stand with Adam Gilchrist, a pugnacious young man in the Hollioake mould, realised 113 in 18 overs and was crucial.

The early part of the Australian innings was badly undermined by a sequence of run-outs which merely confirmed that it is better to open negotiations before making a commitment. In short order, Mark Taylor, Mark Waugh and Michael Slater all went, the latter two to direct hits. This fielding embodied the improvements towards which England and their coach David Lloyd have been working for a year. Not all their groundwork was of the highest quality but in the tight situations they were lethal.

Taylor was the first to go after partially overcoming an apprehensive start, though form and footwork continue to elude him. Waugh pushed square on the offside, set off for a single but then turned his back on his captain in every way. Taylor who kept coming was stranded as the ball was retrieved.

One run out might have been unfortunate even given these foolish circumstances, two might have been careless, a third entered the realms of the unforgivable. Waugh departed three balls after his leader when he called his brother Steve for a single. He knew as he stopped to watch the TV replay midway to the pavilion that it was in vain hope. Slater also tried to dash off a single after hitting the ball into the covers. Phillip DeFreitas, who was probably playing his last match for England, swooped in from cover and thrillingly uprooted the middle stump.

Bevan batted for 154 minutes and faced 129 balls, expertly rotating the strike and turning things round at the same time. The bowling was not of sustained accuracy but the pitch was good, the Oval was expansive as always. England stuck rigidly to the task in hand and nobody could fault the way in which they ran for everything even as Australia scampered irritating threes which might have been twos.

England's innings started badly for both them and poor Knight, who probably needed runs here to secure his place. But it was not to be and if the lbw decision which accounted for him might not have been given on other days there was scant doubt in the mind of umpire John Hampshire.

Still it brought in Stewart who offered a brief reprise of his winter form. His 40 came in 40 balls and everyone was settling back for a ludicruously early finish when Shane Warne undid him with a googly - a reminder of the perils ahead. Graham Thorpe fell to the left-arm wrist-spin of Bevan - perhaps also significant - and Graham Lloyd departed after exhibiting some punchy confidence.

In came Hollioake, unbothered by the odd flaw, and Australia really should have known then they were up against it. At 216 for 4 after 44 overs the affair was still tense. Not for much longer. But there is reason to hope now there will be real tension in the rest of this summer.

Henry Blofeld, page 20

Scoreboard from The Oval

England won toss

AUSTRALIA

M E Waugh run out (Croft TV replay) 25

(42 min, 25 balls, 4 fours; direct hit from square leg)

*M A Taylor run out (Hollioake-Gough) 11

(37 min, 35 balls, 1 four; left stranded after misunderstanding)

S R Waugh b Croft 24

(60 min, 35 balls, 3 fours; ball slid under defensive shot on to stumps)

M G Bevan not out 108

(154 min, 129 balls, 6 fours)

M J Slater run out (DeFreitas TV replay) 1

(6 min, 11 balls; direct hit from short extra cover)

A C Gilchrist lbw b Hollioake 53

(66 min, 50 balls, 2 fours, 1 six ; missed attempting play to leg side)

I A Healy run out (Lloyd-Stewart TV replay) 7

(9 min, 7 balls; direct hit from deep extra cover)

S K Warne not out 11

(14 min, 8 balls, 1 four)

Extras (lb8 w1) 9

Total (for 6, 197 min, 50 overs) 249

Fall: 1-35 (Taylor) 2-37 (M Waugh) 3-94 (S Waugh) 4-98 (Slater) 5-211 (Gilchrist) 6-226 (Healy).

Did not bat: J N Gillespie, M S Kasprowicz, G D McGrath.

Bowling: DeFreitas 8-0-47-0 (4-0-17-0, 2-0-15-0, 2-0-15-0); Gough 10- 3-42-0 (6-3-23-0, 2-0-7-0, 2-0-12-0); Ealham 9-2-40-0 (5-2-8-0, 2-0-17- 0, 2-0-15-0); Giles 9-0-48-0 (w1) (6-0-26-0, 3-0-22-0); Croft 10-2-39- 1; Hollioake 4-0-25-1 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 58 min, 82 balls. 100: 109 min, 163 balls. 150: 139 min, 213 balls. 200: 166 min, 258 balls.

ENGLAND

N V Knight lbw b Kasprowicz 4

(8 min, 10 balls, 1 four; beaten on forward defensive shot)

*M A Atherton not out 113

(200 min, 149 balls, 10 four)

A J Stewart b Warne 40

(53 min, 40 balls, 7 fours; bowled off pad trying to drive through mid- on)

G P Thorpe c S Waugh b Bevan 7

(38 min, 19 balls; prodded Chinaman to midwicket)

G D Lloyd c Warne b McGrath 22

(41 mins, 32 balls, 1 four; chipped tamely to mid-off)

A J Hollioake not out 53

(56 min, 41 balls, 6 fours)

Extras (lb5 w8 nb1) 14

Total (for 4, 200 min, 48.2 overs) 253

Fall: 1-6 (Knight) 2-77 (Stewart) 3-104 (Thorpe) 4-158 (Lloyd).

Did not bat: M A Ealham, R D B Croft, A F Giles, P A J DeFreitas, D Gough.

Bowling: McGrath 9-1-46-1 (w2) (2-0-6-0, 3-1-7-0, 3-0-22-1, 1-0-11-0); Kasprowicz 9.2-0-58-1 (w1) (1-0-2-1, 4-0-26-0, 4.2-0-30-0); Gillespie 8-1-42-0 (nb1 w2) (2-0-20-0, 5-1-15-0, 1-0-7-0); Warne 10-0-39-1 (7-0- 25-1, 3-0-14-0); Bevan 9-0-43-1 (w1), S Waugh 3-0-20-0 (w2) (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 40 min, 50 balls. 100: 96 min, 131 balls. 150: 137 min, 198 balls. 200: 171 min, 248 balls. 250: 200 min, 291 balls.

England won by six wickets

Umpires: J H Hampshire and D R Shepherd. TV Replay Umpire: B Dudleston.

Match Referee: R S Madugalle. Adjudicator: C S Cowdrey.

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