Cricket: Atherton's opportunity to convince selectors

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MIKE ATHERTON'S contribution in the NatWest Trophy roses quarter- final at Old Trafford today is sure to come into sharper focus after England's humiliation in the Lord's Test.

One-day domestic cricket is, of course, no real preparation for the Test arena. But for Atherton it is another vital match in his comeback programme - and the selectors would find it hard to disregard another sizeable score from the former captain during the present state of England gloom.

Atherton has hardly played this summer after his prolonged back trouble, but the big double century at Blackpool proves the old touch and appetite are still much in evidence. His opening partner in the game against Yorkshire will be Mike Watkinson, as Mark Chilton has a hamstring strain.

And that means Lancashire could play three slow bowlers on a spin-friendly pitch before a crowd which could swell to 15,000. Off-spinner Gary Yates, squeezed out since the arrival of Sri Lankan master Muttiah Muralitharan, has been included - an indication of the pitch conditions.

Yorkshire have lost three knockout cup ties in as many years in Manchester, but the holders' captain, John Crawley, said: "We've got to be on top of our game for this one. But we are coming into peak form and are up for it."

Yorkshire, too, have called up spin reinforcements, with Ian Fisher and James Middlebrook included in a squad of 13, which does not include the injured England pace bowler Darren Gough, though the swing bowler Paul Hutchison returns after back problems.

The Yorkshire captain, David Byas, said: "We have to put all thoughts of the pitch out of our minds and get on with the job. The players are confident they can win at Old Trafford, which would be a big breakthrough considering results there in recent years."

The Surrey pair Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe, among the players under fire after England's dismal second Test defeat, are the form men in this competition. Thorpe made 91 not out and Butcher 54 in the five-wicket win over Worcestershire in the last round and will pose a threat to Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.

Surrey might be Championship leaders, but Northamptonshire will be heartened by the fact that Adam Hollioake's outfit are not the same force in the one-day game, having won just three of 10 National League matches. Alex Tudor's "hot spot" on his left knee will keep him out, and Surrey have called in seamer Joey Benjamin and off-spinner Gareth Batty. Northamptonshire captain Matthew Hayden (ankle) and fast bowler Devon Malcolm (back strain) require fitness tests.

The South African all rounder Jacques Kallis looks set to bowl in Glamorgan's game against Super-Cup finalists Gloucestershire at Cardiff.

He has not sent down a delivery since the World Cup semi-final against Australia in mid-June because of a torn stomach muscle which delayed his Glamorgan debut by five weeks. "I don't think it will be a problem," said Kallis. "It wasn't worth taking a risk in the last match against Surrey because our bowlers were doing a pretty good job and I'm sure I'll be able to bowl in this match."

Gloucestershire will have to make a late fitness check on their Australian all-rounder Ian Harvey before they finalise their starting line-up. Harvey has taken 25 wickets at 12 runs apiece in limited overs cricket this season, but has an injured rib cartilage. The Gloucestershire coach, John Bracewell, said: "We're hopeful of Ian playing, but we will call on James Averis, Mark Hardinges or Ben Gannon from a second team match at Uxbridge if he isn't fit."

Somerset, who overcame form side Sussex by five wickets in the previous round, will also give tests to Paul Jarvis (groin) and Graham Rose (hand) before the tie against Kent at Taunton, but the Tasmanian captain, Jamie Cox, will play despite a calf injury. Kent, 10 games unbeaten, will be striving to maintain their good run of form.