AS A measure of class and sheer guts, there can have been few better examples than the way Michael Atherton donned the crampons against Kent yesterday and slowly worked his way back up the steep slope in search of better form. The top of his personal mountain is still some way off, but at least he has now left base camp.
The former England captain has been out of sorts for a long while now. His 98 last Sunday was a start, but he needed to put together something of substance in the longer game in order to stay in the running for an England place, and probably just to retain his self-belief. He did precisely that.
In a shade over two hours Atherton dug deep and by the close had reached a chanceless 42. It was embroidered with patience and studded with just three boundaries in the 102 balls he has faced to date. It was his best first-class score this season. His two previous Championship innings were 0 and 33 not out, the latter made against declaration bowling at Sussex. And Atherton's innings took on even greater stature with the dismissals of John Crawley, Neil Fairbrother and Nathan Wood before the close.
The left-hander Wood had looked perfectly comfortable in a 62-run opening partnership with Atherton, but he fell to a leg side catch behind for 27.
Crawley lasted just a handful of balls before he too was caught behind by Steve Marsh without scoring. Fairbrother picked up the tempo but with, two balls remaining to stumps, he shouldered arms to a delivery from Carl Hooper and was bowled by the arm ball.
That left Atherton looking solid and good for a big score today. However painstaking his innings may have seemed, it was certainly the only approachto adopt, especially after Lancashire had done such good work to dismiss Kent inside two sessions.
The Kent innings was as fast as the Lancashire effort was slow. There seemed to be an indecent haste to the home side's batting and that led to waste. Only Alan Ealham applied himself. He coped well with the movement through the air generated by the Lancashire bowlers, the ball swung a little less after lunch but still enough to ensure Kent were whipped out on the stroke of tea.
Ealham would probably prefer a little bit of licence when he is at the crease, unfortunately the failure of those above and around him in the order dictated otherwise. For all that, he was still able to claim 10 thudding boundaries and one hard-hit six which cleared the spectators and their cars, in his excellent 73.
Had it not been for Ealham, who shared in a precious stand of 64 with Ben Phillips, the Kent score would have looked a lot sorrier than it did.