England slip after Atherton century

FIFTH TEST: West Indies' patience rewarded with four late wickets after 148-run opening stand
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England 227-4 v West Indies

It is debatable as to the precise moment Michael Atherton felt the pain miraculously disappear from his injured back, but as soon as he won the toss might be a reasonable assumption. One look at the Trent Bridge pitch, and the England captain would have come out to bat in a bathchair if he had had to.

Ron Allsopp's farewell Test match surface was clearly not designed to give him an extra day off, although England's last session descent from 148 for 0 to 227 for 4 leaves them some way short of fireproof. If Brian Lara gets in too soon on this pitch, he may yet relegate his 375 to the realms of a flirtatious cameo.

Atherton's first Test century in 25 innings, and the first by an Englishman in this series, was compiled in a throwback to a more distant era, when batsmen filled their steel toe-capped boots, fielding sides chugged along waiting for the third new ball, and games more often than not ended in a draw.

Until the West Indian bowlers reaped their reward for remaining patient, Atherton and Nick Knight had threatened to overtake Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh as the last opening pair to bat through the first day of a Test match, on this same ground in 1989, and achieve what no pair of English openers - not even Hobbs and Sutcliffe - have ever done.

On the eve of the match, Atherton said that there was no such thing as an easy century against the West Indies, and while the point was entirely valid, this was as close to one as he will ever get. Apart from the pitch, Curtly Ambrose was missing with a shoulder injury, a West Indian scorecard with a specialist leg spinner on it represented as big a collector's item as two successive scorecards autographed by the same England team, and for once the term toothless in connection with a West Indian attack had nothing to do with the opposition's dental records.

It was a novel experience to watch English batsmen plunging nonchalantly on to the front foot against the likes of Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Kenneth Benjamin, but a barrage of bouncers yesterday would have endangered no-one other than innocent pedestrians in Bridgford Road.

The West Indies' bowlers thereby adhered to a length that for once involved targeting the stumps rather than the rib cage, and the absence of backbending resulted in an almost total absence of no balls. The first foot over the front line belonged to Walsh, after 73 minutes, and the second to Benjamin, 25 minutes before tea.

However, some old habits die hard, and Atherton and Knight still failed to score at more than two runs an over during their opening partnership of 148, despite the fact that the leg spinner, Rajindra Dhanraj, bowled almost unchanged between mid-morning and tea. Dhanraj is the leading West Indian wicket-taker on tour, with 47 at 22 apiece, but this pitch was so slow that a batsman missing the googly could almost have gone back and played another stroke before the ball reached the stumps.

Solidly though Knight played, it was perhaps appropriate that he was finally out - lbw to Benjamin - offering no stroke, as he barely offered a stroke, at least in anger, during his innings of 53, which lasted four and a quarter hours. At one stage, when the crowd broke out into thunderous applause, it was hard to work out whether it had been prompted by the milestone of England's 100 or by Knight ending a long period of becalment on 28 with a nudged single.

Long partnerships do not often do much for the next man in, although John Crawley's wait did not quite match John Morris's on his England debut in 1990, when he came in at 641 for 4. However, Crawley spent long enough in his pads for the creaking of limbs to be almost audible, and his wooden prod at Benjamin resulted in a fine diving catch from Stuart Williams at second slip.

Atherton, having batted five and a half hours, was doubtless making mental preparations to bat all day today as well when his concentration failed him. A daft call for a single resulted in a direct hit from Dhanraj and a clear enough run-out decision on the TV replay.

Graham Thorpe looked in fluent form before edging a ball from Bishop angled across him, and Courtney Browne, preferred to the accident-prone Junior Murray behind the stumps, took a straightforward catch. From 206 for 2, it took much of the gloss from England's day.

For reasons best known to themselves, England preferred Graeme Hick to Alan Wells, who had more reason to reach for the Kleenex at being omitted here than Hick did at Old Trafford. Wells's selection, as a 33-year-old with a reputation as one of the better players of fast bowling, is now a total mystery. It was enough to make you wonder whether Hick went into his grievance meeting with chairman Ray clutching a set of compromising photographs.

Hick's cosseted treatment was further emphasised by England sending out a nightwatchman, Richard Illingworth, with eight overs still remaining, but when Thorpe was out, Hick had to come in to face what transpired to be 11 deliveries. He survived, but the second new ball is only five overs old, and England need an innings from him today. He owes them.

County cricket, page 25

TRENT BRIDGE SCOREBOARD

(England won toss)

ENGLAND - First innings

N V Knight lbw b Benjamin 57

(254 min, 191 balls, 6 fours)

*M A Atherton run out (Dhanraj) 113

(337 min, 247 balls, 17 fours)

J P Crawley c Williams b Benjamin 14

(41 min, 32 balls, 2 fours)

G P Thorpe c Browne b Bishop 19

(50 min, 37 balls, 2 fours)

R K Illingworth not out 8

(40 min, 28 balls)

G A Hick not out 6

(27 min, 11 balls, 1 four)

Extras (b4, nb6) 10

Total (for 4, 378 min, 90 overs) 227

Fall: 1-148 (Knight), 2-179 (Crawley), 3-206 (Atherton), 4-211 (Thorpe).

To bat: C White, R C Russell, M Watkinson, D G Cork, A R C Fraser.

Bowling: Walsh 26-4-61-0 (nb4) (9-2-19-0, 6-2-9-0, 11-0-33-0); Bishop 18-5-41-1 (nb2) (6-3-12-0, 6-2-12-0, 6-0-17-1); Benjamin 18-7-36-2 (8- 5-11-0, 10-2-25-2); Dhanraj 24-2-77-0 (17-2-51-0, 7-0-26-0); Arthurton 4-0-8-0 (1-0-1-0 3-0-7-0).

Progress: 50: 95 min, 22.4 overs. Lunch: 67-0 (Knight 17, Atherton 45) 30 overs. 100: 182 min, 46.2 overs. Tea: 142-0 (Knight 53, Atherton 83) 61 overs. 150: 259 mins, 65.2 overs. 200: 327 mins, 80.2 overs. New ball taken after 85.1 overs at 213-4.

Knight 50: 235 mins, 172 balls, 5 fours.

Atherton 50: 132 mins, 93 balls, 9 fours.

100: 280 mins, 216 balls, 15 fours.

WEST INDIES: S C Williams, S L Campbell, B C Lara, *R B Richardson, K L T Arthurton, S Chanderpaul, C O Browne, I R Bishop, R Dhanraj, K C G Benjamin, C A Walsh.

Umpires: N Plews and C J Mitchley (SA).

TV Umpire: G Sharp.

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