Gatting in return of the century FOURTH TEST: Former captain leads England crawl in Australia while A side estab lishes position with more panache

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England 353

Australia 81-0

Mike Gatting has not particularly enjoyed the role of England's condemned man on this tour (apart, that is, from the number of hearty breakfasts he has been able to put away) and he would not even be playing in this Test if half the team were not encasedin a variety of splints and corsets. However, Gatting's first Test century for seven and a half years will at least allow him to end his England career in two weeks' time on an upbeat note.

Before this game, Gatting was on course to return home having consumed more meat pies than he had scored Test runs, despite playing in every match. Up until this innings, he had scratched out 57 runs in five visits to the crease, and his only contribution to the fielding has been to provide an impenetrable barrier at short leg.

It was, therefore, an emotional moment for Gatting when he finally reached three figures, as he whipped off his helmet to kiss the three lions, and waved the bat that he was thinking of selling off with the advertisement "one careful owner, barely used" with as much gusto as he normally reserves for summoning the dinner waiter.

So tortured was his final progress to his century that all those in England who had decided to stay up and wait for it when he was 89 not out at lunch were finally put out of their suspense at around the same time as the milkman was arriving. It took Gatting one and a half hours to score those 11 runs, one hour and six minutes to move from 95 to 100 and 31 minutes and 17 deliveries stuck on 99.

Even then, he might have been out running the final single. His thick-edged steer off Craig McDermott was half parried by Steve Waugh at gully, and as Gatting and Phillip DeFreitas hestitated in mid-pitch, DeFreitas selflessly decided to sacrifice himself on Waugh's throw. However, it missed, and Gatting (who was foisted on Michael Atherton for this tour as opposed to selected by him) scuttled in for his 10th Test century and his fourth against Australia.

McDermott joined in the applause, which was sporting of him, since he had bowled Gatting for 19 with a no-ball the previous day, and had put in a remarkable performance, with little or no luck, on a flat batsman's pitch. With Damien Fleming off the fieldwith a hamstring injury after lunch yesterday, McDermott eventually sent down 41 of Australia's 141.3 overs, and was still steaming in as quickly at the end as he had been at the beginning. England, by contrast, are still looking for a pace bowler who is not about to sign a lucrative contract with Elastoplast.

For all the genuine pleasure at Gatting's achievement, England still ended up with a below-par total for the conditions, a point accentuated in the closing session of play when Mark Taylor and Michael Slater swatted 81 runs from an England attack that rarely managed to bowl two consecutive balls in the same place.

Given that England's tail began at No 6, where Steven Rhodes actually improved his Test batting average by scoring half a dozen, 350 was something of an achievement, and had Gatting, as the form book suggested he would, gone early, then England might have struggled to cobble together 200.

Resuming at 196 for 2, Graham Thorpe played a Gower-like cameo before falling to Shane Warne, a wicket which Warne greeted with almost as much relief as Gatting did his century. After Melbourne, Warne's Test figures were 112.2-43-190-20, but until he hadThorpe caught at slip, he had subsquently bowled another 66 overs for a return of 1 for 184.

John Crawley assisted Gatting in a fourth-wicket partnership of 75, without ever looking as though he had a clue how to play Warne, and was eventually bowled around his legs offering no stroke shortly after lunch. After that, it was merely a question of whether Gatting would reach 100 before running out of partners.

Gatting, in fact, made only 26 runs between lunch and tea, and was down to his last semi-reliable partner in Angus Fraser when Gatting, having been joined by the slowest runner between the wickets bar himself, curiously decided to attempt an all-run four. If it had been Slater and Taylor batting, and Gatting fielding, they could have run six, but when Gatting spotted Glenn McGrath's 60- yard throw arrowing in at the bowler's end, his hasty change of mind left Fraser stranded by five yards.

Devon Malcolm was then bowled first ball by McDermott, and when Gatting, not trusting Philip Tufnell to make too many, drilled the leg spinner Peter McIntyre to the diving Steve Waugh at deep gully, England had lost their last three wickets without adding a run.

Gatting had been in for 10 minutes short of seven hours for his 117, and said afterwards that he had not expected to play had Alec Stewart and Graeme Hick not dropped out through injury. "I thought it was time to pack the kit away and get out the suncream," he said afterwards, "so it was nice to come in and do well."

What Gatting should do now, and the same applies to Graham Gooch, is to announce that the final Test in Perth is to be the last. That way, given that England are more or less committed to a long-term policy of younger blood, they can both go out in a manner befitting distinguished old warriors, rather than waiting for the phone call that never comes.

(England won toss; second day)

ENGLAND - First Innings (Overnight: 196 for 2)

M W Gatting c S Waugh b McIntyre 117

(410 min, 286 balls, 14 fours)

G P Thorpe c Taylor b Warne 26

(34 min, 34 balls, 5 fours)

J P Crawley b Warne 28

(119 min, 110 balls, 2 fours)

S J Rhodes c Taylor b McDermott 6

(27 min, 20 balls, 1 four)

C C Lewis c Blewett b McDermott 10

(32 min, 20 balls, 1 four)

P A J DeFreitas c Blewett b McIntyre 21

(28 min, 32 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)

A R C Fraser run out 7

(23 min, 22 balls)

D E Malcolm b McDermott 0

(2 min, 1 ball)

P C R Tufnell not out 0

(5 min, 5 balls)

Extras (b2 lb5 w2 nb2) 11

Total (557 min, 141.3 overs) 353

Fall (cont): 3-211 (Thorpe), 4-286 (Crawley), 5-293 (Rhodes), 6-307 (Lewis), 7-334 (DeFreitas), 8-353 (Fraser), 9-353 (Malcolm).

Bowling: McDermott 41-15-66-3 (nb2) (6-3-13-0, 5-4-2-0, 6-0-12-0, 4-2-4-0, 7-2-12-0, 11-3-22-2, 2-1-1-1); Fleming 25-6-65-2 (w1) (8-2-11-0, 6-0-16-1, 6-2-23-1, 3-1-9-0, 2-1-6-0); Blewett 16-4-59-0 (5-1-23-0, 6-1-14-0, 1-1-0-0, 4-1-22-0); Warne 31-9-72-2 (5-1-13-0, 4-0-21-0, 9-2-21-1, 13-6-17-1); McIntyre 19.3-3-51-2 (w1) (3-1-7-0, 5-1-16-0, 6-1-13-0, 5.3-0-15-2); M Waugh 9-1-33-0 (4-1-16-0, 5-0-17-0).

Progress: Second day: 200: 299 min, 77 overs. New ball taken after 88 overs at 227-3. 250: 371 min, 96.2 overs. Lunch: 279-3 (Gatting 89, Crawley 27) 108 overs. 300: 471 min, 121.3 overs. Tea: 346-7 (Gatting 115, Fraser 2) 137 overs. 350: 545 min, 139.3 overs. Innings closed: 4.22pm.

Gatting's 100: 354 min, 255 balls, 12 fours.

AUSTRALIA - First Innings M J Slater not out 36

(91 min, 60 balls, 3 fours)

*M A Taylor not out 43

(91 min, 74 balls, 4 fours)

Extras (lb1 nb1) 2

Total (for 0, 91 min, 22 overs) 81

To bat: D C Boon, M E Waugh, G S Blewett, S R Waugh, I A Healy, S K Warne, C J McDermott, P E McIntyre, D W Fleming.

Bowling (to date): Malcolm 6-1-23-0; Fraser 5-0-27-0 (nb1); Tufnell 6-2-10-0; DeFreitas 3-0-11-0; Lewis 2-0-9-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 50 min, 11 overs.

Umpires: P D Parker and S Venkataraghavan.

TV replay umpire: S J Davis.

Match referee: J R Reid.