Atherton absence upsets county

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The Independent Online

Lancashire are unhappy about being singled out as the only county to lose a contracted player to domestic matches this week following the withdrawal of Michael Atherton from their National League fixtures.

Lancashire are unhappy about being singled out as the only county to lose a contracted player to domestic matches this week following the withdrawal of Michael Atherton from their National League fixtures.

All the other 11 players with central contracts have featured for their counties this week, including Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick, whose efforts with the new ball for England have prompted the national coach, Duncan Fletcher, to withdraw them from domestic cricket on a regular basis.

But Atherton was rested from Wednesday's nine-wicket National League defeat by Yorkshire at Headingley, a result which could have a bearing on Lancashire's attempt to avoid relegation from the First Division.

Atherton was also missing from yesterday's National League fixture with Gloucestershire. It will leave him desperately short of one-day match practice ahead of tomorrow's NatWest Trophy semi-final against Gloucestershire in Bristol having not played any limited-overs cricket since Lancashire's quarter-final win over Surrey at The Oval on 27 July.

"How is it that every England player has been able to turn out for their counties this week apart from one - Michael Atherton?" said the Lancashire chairman, Jack Simmons. "Yorkshire had Darren Gough, Craig White and Michael Vaughan in their side against us at Headingley on Wednesday, but we were not allowed to use Atherton and it is the same again for today's game against Gloucestershire.

"We're fighting for our lives in the league and yet we can't use our best batsman. The central contracts were supposed to have a bit of give and take in them but at the moment we are not getting anything and I'm not happy about it."

England claim Atherton is being treated as a separate case as a result of his prolonged back problems. "Michael has a long-standing back condition and it is sensible to rest him from playing too much cricket in the interests of England and Lancashire," a spokesman said.

Simmons, though, is not convinced it is a sufficient reason to prevent Lancashire fielding their most celebrated batsman, adding: "How would playing in one or two one-day matches in between Tests affect his preparation for the next Test match?"

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