Only Atherton rises above the lethargy

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reports from Paarl

England 244 Boland 170 (England win by 74 runs)

This was a one-day match played because everyone else present had lost interest. Everyone, that is, bar Michael Atherton who was away fishing when the decision was taken. After the one-day thrash, which England won comfortably, Atherton said it was a decision that he would "shy away from," should it arise again. That view is at variance with his chairman, who is largely thought to have been behind the switch from the scheduled four- day game to a three-day game followed by a one-dayer.

If culprits were being sought, then the pitch, more lifeless than a Monday night in Bloemfontein, can be blamed, although the main guilty parties must be the management of both sides, who hatched the plot. In fact when a statement was handed out by an official of the Boland Cricket Board, it came with the verbal rejoinder: that "Whatever the teams want, that's fine."

However, before widespread spluttering breaks out in St John's Wood and beyond, a special case might be made on the grounds of euthanasia. As anyone who might have watched any one of the three days played will testify, it was a game played by two sides seemingly lame with lack of interest, in front of small pockets of spectators more bent on the what was going on to the barbecue, than what was going on out in the middle.

Abandoning a game due to lack of interest has no known precedent, but despite being a bold move, it is a dangerous one for England to set. You can imagine the brouhaha if the Australians suddenly decided to call off their match against Durham or Glamorgan, safe in the knowledge that they are far superior, but unable to bother with the effort required to prove it - which is essentially what England's stance was about here.

However, when Ray Illingworth was asked about the decision on Saturday, the England chairman claimed the game was "dawdling" and added: "It was clearly the right thing to do." He went on to say, in case there were any accusations of humbug on England's part, that the decision to play the one-day game was actually taken "shortly before the home side saved the follow-on."

Privately, the England camp have not been impressed by the backwater venues or the sluggish pitches for their Test-match build-ups. They felt this latest decision at least gave those not playing in the original game , the chance for a run around before the next Test.

Over the years, cricket authorities, have been accused, often with some justification, of running the game as if it were a private members' club, with little regard for public needs and wants. So it comes as something of a mild shock that they appear to have gone for the populist decision here, of putting public - with an enhanced crowd of 4,000 turning up - and piggy bank first.

Curiously, considering this was the same pitch both batsmen and bowlers claimed was unworkable over the three previous days, England managed 244; a rate of almost five runs an over. Atherton with 77 and his Lancashire team-mate John Crawley with 48 were the principal scorers. Their solid opening partnership of 84, ending in the 19th over when Crawley was given out, caught off his wrist, sweeping .

Apart from their captain's fine form and spark, England's batsmen appeared even less interested that on Thursday. Without his top score of 77, off 92 balls, and a couple of useful contributions from Mike Watkinson and Russell, this game also could well have been abandoned on the grounds of lack of excitement.

Unless a decent score is posted the whole raison d'etre of one-day cricket - a spine-tingling finish in the last over of the game - cannot be guaranteed and the whole event becomes even more boring and predictable than the tamest drawn, played over three, four or five days.

In the event England's total was too much for Boland, who lacked a couple of sensible run-scorers to go with their clean striking captain, Adrian Kuiper. The burly apple farmer clouted his way to fifty in as many balls, but once he had gone, the procession started and England finished at a canter, winning by the sort of margin they might have managed in the original match, had they declared their second innings 40 minutes before lunch on the last day.

Paarl scoreboard

(England won toss)

ENGLAND

J P Crawley c Germishuys b Henderson 48

*M A Atherton c Germishuys b Muller 77

G A Hick c Drew b Kuiper 11

G A Thorpe c and b Kuiper 3

M R Ramprakash c and b Stelling 0

M Watkinson c Henderson b Drew 29

D G Cork c Baguley b Muller 16

R C Russell not out 29

P J Martin c Germishuys b Willoughby 12

D E Malcolm b Stelling 0

A R C Fraser run out 4

Extras (b4, lb5, w6) 15

Total (49.4 overs) 244

Fall: 1-84, 2-107, 3-123, 4-124, 5-180, 6-188, 7-211, 8-239, 9-240.

Bowling: Willoughby 10-0-59-1; Stelling 8.4-1-44-2; Muller 10-0-48-2; Drew 10-0-42-1; Henderson 5-1-26-1; Kuiper 6-2-16-2.

BOLAND

B C Baguley c and b Martin 10

L D Ferreira lbw b Cork 3

T Lazard c Russell b Malcolm 11

K C Jackson b Martin 19

*A P Kuiper run out 54

W F Stelling b Cork 29

L-M Germishuys c Crawley b Martin 19

C W Henderson c Ramprakash b Fraser 11

Z Muller lbw b Fraser 3

B J Drew not out 1

C M Willoughby b Martin 0

Extras (lb3, w5, nb2) 10

Total (42.4 overs) 170

Fall: 1-18, 2-33, 3-39, 4-60, 5-135, 6-137, 7-158, 8-169, 9-169.

Bowling: Cork 8-1-15-2; Malcolm 6-0-18-1; Martin 8.4-2-35-4; Fraser 8- 1-37-2; Watkinson 10-0-47-0; Hick 2-0-15-0.

Umpires: M Bagus and R Brooks.

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