Cricket: Atherton using testimonial for batting practice

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Mike Atherton will step up his search for runs by playing in a money- raising friendly match in Auckland tomorrow. The floodlit fixture is part of a testimonial programme organised on behalf of the New Zealand fast bowler Danny Morrison.

But if Atherton can cash in by spending an hour or two at the crease, then England might benefit most from the match at Eden Park. Their captain managed only 196 runs in 13 innings as his team went from bad to worse on Zimbabwean soil, where stage one of the winter tour ended with a humiliating 3-0 whitewash in the limited-overs internationals after a drawn Test series that, admittedly, had the honours in England's corner .

Getting Atherton back into good form is now England's top priority as they turn their attentions towards a three-Test series in New Zealand and a limited-overs competition. "Danny had a season with Lancashire and knows Mike from those days," said the England coach, David Lloyd. "Mike would have wanted to play in the game if he could, anyway, but now it's a good opportunity for him to spend some time in the middle."

Dominic Cork might be drafted into Morrison's match as well with England anxious to grab every opportunity to get their key men into shape.

Cork was badly missed in Zimbabwe after pulling out of the first leg of the tour following the breakdown of his marriage. But now the Derbyshire all-rounder, who has captured 67 wickets in 16 Tests, insists he is fighting fit and ready for action.

"I'm clear in my mind that I'm ready to concentrate exclusively on cricket," said Cork, who arrived in Auckland early on Saturday while his team-mates were making a tortuous journey from Harare. "I'm raring to go, I'm physically fit and I can't wait to start playing," Cork said.

Lloyd, stuck at Sydney Airport yesterday awaiting a delayed flight to New Zealand, is keen to find out from Cork why he failed to keep two fitness assessment appointments back at home either side of Christmas. "It's no big deal," said the coach. "I just want to hear from Dominic why he didn't make the appointments."

Cork said that there was a breakdown in communications between him and England's fitness advisor, Dean Riddle, adding: "The Derbyshire physio knows exactly what condition I'm in. I've had a lot of indoor nets and have been doing all my fitness work in the gym. I feel absolutely fine."

The same could not be said for England's other players as they waited for a plane to complete their journey to Auckland. They had left the hotel in Harare 30 hours earlier, travelling via Johannesburg and Perth before being halted by a long delay at Sydney airport.

Craig White was the only player to escape, having been given permission to spend a few days with his family in Melbourne.