Cricket: Atherton's luck

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Lancashire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .309-4

Oxford University

AS EARLY days go, Lancashire will be content with yesterday's performance in The Parks, and no one more so than Michael Atherton. His 107 from 220 balls was not one of his most fluent innings, but after an unsatisfactory, unsettling winter tour of India and Sri Lanka he will be glad to begin his campaign for an England Ashes place with a century.

It would have been a different opening, though, if Oxford's catching had matched their bowling and ground fielding. Twice, when 17 and 27, Atherton should have been caught off the luckless Rob MacDonald. The first chance bisected the two slips at a comfortable height; the second went in and out of Jason Gallian's hands with enough force to fracture the Oxford captain's left thumb.

Atherton's off-stump indiscretions highlighted occasional problems with his timing on a slow pitch, and in particular with his positioning going back on his off- stump. Once past 50 he looked a different player. Back-foot forces through cover matched the quality of his front-foot driving and strokes whipped past square-leg.

Nick Speak's arrival in the 27th over provided the impetus the Lancashire innings needed, and while he was marginally longer over his half-century (128 balls to Atherton's 117) he looked the more positive of the two as they added 160 for the second wicket. Dropped at mid-off when 44, he was on-course for Lancashire's second century when caught behind cutting.

Neither, however, treated with less than respect a tidy Oxford seam attack adhering to the twin tenets of line and length. Michael Jeh, a tall right-armer born in Ceylon (as it was then) and educated in Australia, tested both Lancashire openers in his first spell and could have removed Gehan Mendis several times. Instead his wicket went to Richard Yeabsley, son of the former Devon stalwart Doug, Mendes dragging the ball on to his stumps.

(Lancashire won the toss)

LANCASHIRE - First Innings

G D Mendis b Yeabsley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

M A Atherton b MacDonald . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .107

N J Speak c Lyons b Malik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .87

*N H Fairbrother not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

G D Lloyd c Sub b MacMillan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

] W K Hegg not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

Extras (b1 lb1 w2 nb4) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

Total (for 4). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .309

Fall: 1-56 2-216 3-230 4-261

To bat: M Watkinson, I D Austin, A A Barnett, P A J DeFreitas, P J Martin.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: *J E R Gallian, R R Montgomerie, G I MacMillan, G B T Lovell, C L Keey, H Malik, C Lyons, R Yeabsley, C M Gupte, M Jeh, R H MacDonald.

Umpires: M J Kitchen and P Willey.

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