Atherton spoils Habib's day

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The Independent Online

There have been precious few days made for batting this season and even fewer that Leicestershire have been able to exploit. But Aftab Habib pointed them in the right direction here yesterday and, despite misgivings about wickets being unnecessarily sacrificed, they at least have a serviceable total on the board in this important First Division game.

There have been precious few days made for batting this season and even fewer that Leicestershire have been able to exploit. But Aftab Habib pointed them in the right direction here yesterday and, despite misgivings about wickets being unnecessarily sacrificed, they at least have a serviceable total on the board in this important First Division game.

As Lancashire would no doubt be quick to testify, what rub of the green there was went mostly Leicestershire's way on a pitch on which the bowlers, fast or slow, had no margin for error once the new ball had lost its hardness.

But they stuck gamely to their task, helped by out-cricket that rarely faltered, and were certainly not discouraged by the current Leicestershire trend of batsmen failing to build on a promising start.

For once Habib, a man with a taste for big hundreds, must plead guilty to negligence. By all accounts David Graveney, the England chairman of selectors, will be dropping in today for a chat; Habib, instead of having to explain how he got himself out in the nineties, might still have been batting.

That it took a sensational catch by Michael Atherton would be no consolation. Habib had shouldered the burden of holding Leicestershire together against an attack lacking Peter Martin who, having returned recovered from one injured thumb, contrived to break the other in the morning practice session. His accuracy was missed early on. But once Glen Chapple had pinned Iain Sutcliffe leg before with a swinging yorker, and then Ben Smith had been given out caught off bat and pad, Habib and Darren Maddy had to work hard to pull things round.

On this pitch nothing much troubled them until Maddy, trying to cash in on a long hop from Andrew Flintoff, was superbly caught at square leg by Mark Chilton; encouraged by that, Flintoff immediately found the better ball from which Darren Stevens was well picked up at slip.

Not everything else in that area went to hand or stuck when it did. On another day, for instance, Habib might have gone before he had scored against Chapple. To the distant eye the edge fell just short of second slip.

That, plus a scoreboard reading 70 for 4, no doubt influenced Habib's sober start. But he was soon rolling his wrists to whip the bowling away off his legs.

Jonathan Deakin contributed some punchy strokes off the back foot in a compact half century until he paid the price for negligible footwork against Chris Schofield. A century beckoned for Habib, though, and it was surprising, as well as disappointing, to see him attempt something extravagant against the leg spinner having already pulled him effortlessly for four.

The ball soared high over mid-wicket where Atherton, long since removed there, turned and gave chase. As the steepling chance dropped over his shoulder, Atherton somehow held on to it and Habib was gone after a stay of 257 minutes with 12 fours.

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