Cricket: Atherton's seaside broadside

Lancashire 358-2 v Glamorgan

THE SEASIDE being the place to convalesce, this was an appropriate place for Michael Atherton to announce that all is not yet lost for the former England captain. Playing only his second Championship match of a season undermined again by his seemingly endless back trouble, Atherton revealed that, far from being a burned out flame, he may be about to reignite his career.

Too much optimism may be tempting fate but Atherton, batting through the day for an unbeaten 176, could hardly have done more to announce his wellbeing. He has had problems with his back for almost his entire career but after new treatment he thinks the worst of the latest episode could be behind him.

"Hopefully they have found out what the problem is," he said. "I feel fine now and with the right exercise and rehab I hope I can keep on top of things. I seem to be over the worst."

Given that he had been written off as a spent force in some quarters those words will provide substantial food for thought, especially when underlined by his performance yesterday, when at times he looked quite imperious.

The Stanley Park pitch, even after a drizzly, overcast morning, was full of runs, more so as the afternoon sunshine came through and a stiff breeze quickened the outfield. In these conditions, after John Crawley had chosen to bat, Atherton entertained the audience at this hospitable club ground with drives and cuts, pulls and flicks drawn from the very top of his repertoire.

He had not scored a century in this country since the Edgbaston Test of June last year. Hundreds for Lancashire - currently third from bottom in the Championship - have been a rare commodity, with only four examples in first-class cricket in the past four seasons. Somehow yesterday, however, almost from the outset, it seemed another was coming.

During a partnership of 218 with Mark Chilton, a Lancashire record against Glamorgan, Atherton reached 52 off 114 balls and accelerated to 102 from 190, completing his 48th first-class century with his 17th boundary, a classic cover drive. He gave his only half-chance on 148, a mis-hit pull off Simon Jones that fell just out of mid-on's reach, and by the close had struck 27 fours.

Glamorgan, beaten by an innings in three of their last four Championship matches, offered bowling of variable quality. Robert Croft was unable to make inroads, the wickets of Chilton, caught cutting, and Crawley, top-edging a sweep, both falling to the left-arm spin of Dean Cosker, after which Neil Fairbrother charged to a half-century in just 63 balls.

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