Cricket: Gough sets the tone

Yorkshireman's three wickets brighten the day after injuries sideline Stewart and Atherton
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The Independent Online
ENGLAND shrugged off the loss of their two senior players yesterday to give the type of disciplined and determined performance required if they are to succeed on this winter's Ashes tour.

The late withdrawal of their captain Alec Stewart with a stiff back and Michael Atherton's failure to recover from a bruised right hip might have undermined previous England touring teams.

But, bowling on a flat pitch which gave little encouragement, England conquered stifling heat to claw themselves back into the game against Western Australia with three wickets in the final session. They left their hosts on 265 for 6 on the opening day of their four-day match at the WACA.

The sidelined captain described the bowling as "impressive", but his bad back is a worry for the tourists. Stewart's injury prevented him fielding in Thursday's one-run victory over an ACB chairman's XI at Lilac Hill, but he was expected to be fit for yesterday's start.

It was not to be. Stewart explained, "I had every intention of playing, but this morning I was not 100 per cent right so I was not going to risk making myself worse and setting myself back further." As far as Atherton is concerned, Stewart said that, if the match had been a Test, the Lancashire opener would have played.

England, however, learnt quickly from the mistakes they made during the week, when they bowled too short and wide to be effective on Perth's bouncy and pacy pitches. Darren Gough and Alan Mullally profited by dismissing the openers Ryan Campbell and Mike Hussey inside the first three overs.

Those successes proved to be a false dawn with Justin Langer and Simon Katich forging a 145-run partnership, seizing on virtually every loose delivery to give an ominous pointer for the Second Test here on 28 November. The First Test, at Brisbane, starts on 20 November.

Langer gave two chances; on 51 when he was dropped by the stand-in captain Nasser Hussain at slip, and on 79 when Mark Butcher failed to hold a difficult chance at short midwicket. But after he had reached 85, he attempted to pull Gough, mistimed his stroke and gave the Yorkshireman a simple return catch.

Katich, showing real (if not ominous) promise, followed Langer's lead to register only his second first-class century. The 23-year-old started slowly but was soon into his stride against the English attack, smacking 11 boundaries before he was out leg before to Gough for 106.

But providing Stewart is fit, the portents for England are encouraging, too. In yesterday's play, unlike previous England teams, the 1998 vintage doggedly stuck to their task and, after dropping Langer twice, were able to finish the day in a challenging position.

Michael Dighton became Mullally's second victim of the day by flashing straight to Dominic Cork in the gully and the occasional off-spinner Mark Ramprakash underlined his possible importance to England's Ashes challenge by having Chris Rogers caught behind by the stand-in wicketkeeper Warren Hegg.

England's superb final session was completed by Gough inducing a tired- looking shuffle from Katich. Gough was the best of the English bowlers, taking 3 for 58 from 22 overs on a difficult day for the pacemen with temperatures rising to a peak of 33C.

Scoreboard: Results, page 2