Cricket: Debutants true to the English tradition

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The Independent Online
EVERYONE dreams of making a century on their debut but few do and yesterday's joint return of 26 runs from Mark Lathwell and Graham Thorpe was much more in keeping with reality.

Should they be inclined to dwell on their failures a quiet word from their captain or opening batsman ought to lighten their mood for, as Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton can testify, it could have been worse and should get a lot better.

Gooch made a pair on his debut 18 years ago and Atherton a second-ball duck here in the last Ashes series. Their starts, and that of yesterday's new boys, seem symptomatic of the way English batsmen have begun their careers since Sir Len Hutton opened with a blob.

While Australians stride brashly into the Test arena - Mark Waugh made a brilliant unbeaten 138 on his debut against England in 1991 and Michael Slater scored an uninhibited 58 at Old Trafford - English debutants step tentatively to the crease and head swiftly back to the dressing-room.

Lathwell was the 23rd player to open his England account since Atherton's debut. Of the 23, only Dermot Reeve, in New Zealand 18 months ago, has passed 50. The next best score is 38 by Neil Williams in 1990 and he never played again. First impressions can be very misleading.

Lathwell did show signs of his undoubted talent. After a streaky four through the slips he smoothly drove Brendon Julian off the front foot, then confidently whipped Merv Hughes off his legs. But just as the quiet Somerset youngster was beginning to look the hero Trent Bridge was waiting to acclaim, he failed to get forward or back to a useful Hughes delivery and edged behind.

Thorpe, despite his greater experience with England A and the one-day side, was clearly more nervous, being sent back by Gooch as he attempted a risky single to get off the mark after 10 minutes on nought. Next ball he put through mid-wicket for three and, after driving square for three more, looked to be settling when Hughes surprised him with a short ball he could only fend off the splice.

'They are both quality players but it is a whole different scene when you get into Test cricket. It is going to take a few Tests for them to settle in,' the England manager, Keith Fletcher, said.