Cricket / Fourth Test: Atherton must stay as opener: Henry Blofeld on a problem for England's selectors

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The Independent Online
THE England selectors may now be in an embarrassing position when it comes to choosing Graham Gooch's opening partner. Gooch and Alec Stewart have been extremely successful, but Mike Atherton has once again laid substantial claim to the job.

It is an intriguing situation where neither Stewart nor Atherton are specialist openers. Atherton began life at No 3 and in the last three years Stewart has gradually progressed from six to two.

Both have defied the belief that openers are born not made and promoting batsmen from the middle order to go in first has seldom met with success. While Atherton probably made the jump early enough in his career to be able to adapt, Stewart's resolution has enabled him to make a success of everything he has been asked to do.

But the solution to this problem, if it is a problem, is simple. No wicketkeeper should be asked to open the batting on a regular basis. It is demanding too much of anyone and Stewart showed on Thursday that he is a most able keeper. How good it was to see him increasing the pressure on the batsmen by standing up close to the bowling of Gooch and Derek Pringle.

If he keeps the job, and on this evidence there is every reason that he should, he ought not to be asked to bat higher than No 4. The worst solution of all would be to chop and change between Stewart and Atherton. No one then knows where they are and it would be permanently unsettling for both batsmen.

Atherton batted with more authority than one has seen from him before while wearing an England helmet. There was a firm command about those crisp, clean strokes against Wasim Akram and Aqib Javed early on that told not only of his present form but also of a most satisfactory state of mind. He must now become Gooch's regular partner and only if misfortune or injury should befall him should Stewart be recalled.

HEADINGLEY SCOREBOARD

(Pakistan won toss)

PAKISTAN - First Innings

(Overnight: 165 for 8)

Salim Malik not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82

(227 min, 164 balls, 12 fours)

Mushtaq Ahmed b Lewis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

(90 min, 75 balls)

Aqib Javed c Hick b Munton. . . . . . . . . . . . .0

(12 min, 3 balls)

Extras (b1 lb2 w7 nb16). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Total (342 min, 79.3 overs). . . . . . . . . .197

Fall (cont): 9-192 (Mushtaq), 10-197 (Aqib).

Bowling: Lewis 23-6-48-2 nb1 w2 (First spell: 6-2-13-0; Second spell: 10-2-23-1; Third spell: 7-2-12-1), Mallender 23-7-72-3 nb5 (13-5-32-2; 6-2-23-1; 4-0-17-0); Pringle 17-6-41-2 nb10 (14-4-38-2; 3-2-3-0); Munton 10.3-3-22-2 nb3 (8-3-19-1; 2.3-0-3-1), Gooch 6-3-11-0 w2 (5-3-7-0; 1-0-4-0).

Progress: Innings closed 11.59am.

Salim 50: 159 min, 112 balls, 8 fours.

ENGLAND - First Innings

*G A Gooch not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93

(295 min, 220 balls, 13 fours, 1 six)

M A Atherton b Wasim. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .76

(228 min, 186 balls, 9 fours, 1 six)

R A Smith not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

(66 min, 54 balls, 4 fours)

Extras (lb7, nb18). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

Total (for 1, 295 min, 74 overs). . . . .216

Fall: 1-168 (Atherton).

To bat: D I Gower, A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, G A Hick, C C Lewis, D R

Pringle, N A Mallender, T A Munton.

Bowling: Wasim 25-9-50-1 nb8 (14-5-31-0; 11-4-19-1); Aqib 9-2-33-0 nb5 (3-0-17-0;

6-2-16-0); Waqar 17-2-75-0 nb3 (7-0-35-0; 5-1-20-0; 5-1-20-0); Mushtaq 21-2-51-0; Sohail 2-2-0-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 41 min, 10 overs. Lunch: 54-0 (Gooch 22, Atherton 25) 12 overs. 100: 121 min, 27.5 overs. Tea: 130-0 (Gooch 59, Atherton 54) 41 overs. 150: 200 min, 49.5 overs. 200: 270 min, 68.5 overs.

Gooch 50: 152 min, 108 balls, 9 fours.

Atherton 50: 161 min, 122 balls, 6 fours, 1 six (3 runs plus 3 overthrows).

Umpires: M J Kitchen and K E Palmer.

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