CRICKET Warwickshire meet Atherton in purple patch

BENSON AND HEDGES CUP: Lancashire upset holders n Surrey's setback n Nottinghamshire time it right n Kent in command
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The Independent Online
CRICKET

JON CULLEY

reports from Edgbaston

Lancashire 305-2

Warwickshire 265

Lancashire win by 40 runs

Whatever doubts Michael Atherton may privately harbour about his future as Ray Illingworth's first officer, there are none surrounding his current form.

With the outfield lightning fast on the warmest day of the new season at Edgbaston yesterday, the England captain confirmed his well-being in pure cricketing terms with his second century in five days and his highest score in one-day cricket. Lancashire maintained a 100 per cent record after three group games in the Benson and Hedges Cup and left the holders, after one win in three, with only an outside chance of surviving to the knock-out stage.

After Mike Watkinson had chosen to bat first, Atherton contributed 114 runs of the highest calibre off 142 balls to a partnership of 210 in 43 overs for Lancashire's first wicket. He found an admirable ally in Jason Gallian, who enhanced his own growing reputation with an unbeaten 116, but there was at least equal merit in Neil Fairbrother's undefeated 60. The pugnacious left-hander, an established master in this kind of cricket, entered Lancashire's innings at a critical point after both Atherton and John Crawley had been out in the space of two overs.

He was dropped second ball without scoring, a routine chance at the wicket for Michael Burns, standing in for the injured Keith Piper. But thereafter he confronted the demands of the situation so effectively that Lancashire's total grew by 91 runs in less than 10 overs after Crawley's dismissal and Fairbrother was two-thirds responsible.

Burns would have been especially unpopular with Graeme Welch, the rookie in a seam attack still missing Tim Munton. Welch bore the brunt of Fairbrother's ferocious advance to 50 in 29 balls and took from the match the unwanted distinction of being the first bowler in the competition's 24 years to concede more than 100 runs.

On a pitch which offered little obvious encouragement there were few anxieties for Lancashire's batsmen, but if any of Warwickshire's quintet could count himself unlucky it was Gladstone Small, who not only gave away a mere 25 runs in his 11 overs but caused Gallian several difficult moments in the first hour. It was to his cost, too, that Burns put down Fairbrother.

To win Warwickshire would have needed to surpass the 291 for 5 they made in defeating Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1981 which, until Lancashire's unlikely victory over Leicestershire last week, had been the highest winning total in the competition for a side batting second.

They suffered a setback when Nick Knight perished in the seventh over but an attractive partnership of 158 for the second wicket between Andy Moles and the impressive Dominic Ostler gave them a chance. Racing along at six an over they had brought the target down to a manageable 128 with 20 overs left.

By then, however, Ostler had just gone, somehow picking out Watkinson in the otherwise deserted off-side field of the off spinner Gary Yates. Although Warwickshire still had wickets in hand, it proved an important breakthrough, for neither Roger Twose nor Trevor Penney could offer Moles support.

When Yates then took a superb return catch to remove Moles, the contest was fast slipping away from the home side and in the end the margin was comfortable for Lancashire, with just under four overs to spare.

Scoreboard,

West Indies' task, page 38

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