Cricket: Atherton's risk-taking rewarded

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The Independent Online
Mike Atherton's captaincy is competent rather than brilliant. He polices the progress of the game in an organised manner but can seldom be accused of having altered its course with sudden and unexepected tactical decisions. At times he has seemed too inflexible.

In the early afternoon England were in a difficult situation. On a slow, flat pitch two batsmen, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saeed Anwar, had put on 130 and were not in the slightest difficulty against any of the bowlers. Pakistan were heading for a big total. It was then that Atherton suddenly threw the ball to Graeme Hick, who is nowadays little more than an occasional off-spinner, preferring to use him rather than his one specialist spinner, Ian Salisbury, who had already bowled four overs for 18 runs before lunch.

Hick's first two balls had Inzamam in a tangle. He came down the pitch to the first but did not quite get to the pitch of the ball and had to fall back on an improvised, crab-like defensive stroke. He pushed out to the second and it flew off his pad to slip, before turning the third to square leg for a single. His fourth ball to Saeed Anwar was short. Saeed could hardly believe his luck and, making room for himself, played a wild square cut. But the ball turned away from the left-hander, found the edge, and he was caught behind.

Atherton had backed a hunch and it had worked. Another unusual aspect of the affair was that Atherton, who often seems deeply suspicious of spin, had, in a moment of need, turned to a spinner. One can only hope that the success of this inspiration will come to make him more flexible and more inclined to take a similar chance in the future.

This incident also showed the importance of having a bowler in your side who, in normal circumstances, you would not be expected to call upon but who, in a sitution like this, is well worth an over or two.