Cricket Expert & Columnist
The Ashes: Michael Clarke 'tamed' England's bowlers at Old Trafford
Michael Clarke 'tamed' England's bowlers as Australia racked up the runs at Old Trafford, says Athers.
Last Updated: 02/08/13 12:15pm
The Baggy Greens skipper reached an unbeaten 125 at stumps - the first century by an Australian in the 2013 Ashes so far - as the tourists responded from their 347-run mauling at Lord's to end the day on 303-3.
Sky Sports pundit Atherton believes Clarke, who moved up from five to four in the batting order, was under immense heat after failing to score more than 51 in the series and seeing his side slip 2-0 down to England.
But he says the 32-year-old, who has been troubled by a back injury, displayed his class on a warm day in Manchester and showed his team-mates how to combat their opponents' bowlers.
"Australia have had an excellent day when they needed a good day and the captain, under significant personal pressure, played a gem of an innings," Atherton told Sky Sports Ashes.
"Clarke has had a number of issues - the shocking performance of his team at Lord's, the fact he hadn't really stamped his authority on the series, and thirdly the issue of where he bats - but he confronted them superbly batting at four, where statistically he has not had much success.
"He is a fine player, one of the best in the game, but he needed to lead from the front and show that England's bowlers could be tamed - he had a beautiful little battle with Graeme Swann throughout the day - and [he did]."
Atherton also reserved praise for 35-year-old opener Chris Rogers - recalled at the start of the series after a five-and-a-half-year stint in the international wilderness - who notched a fluent 84 after Australia had won the toss and elected to bat.
But the ex-Lancashire man noted, too, the continued troubles of Rogers' partner, Shane Watson, who, after being dismissed lbw three out of four times this summer, edged Tim Bresnan to slip fielder Alastair Cook to depart for 19 at Old Trafford.
"I thought Rogers' contribution at the top of the order was critical," added the erstwhile England skipper. "He got his team off to a confident start while Watson was very introspective and deserved a hundred.
"England offered him lots of opportunities to drive through the offside and he didn't disappoint; he played some beautiful shots down the ground and through the covers, and when they got a bit straighter he clipped through mid-wicket.
"Watson, though, looks like someone who is struggling both mentally and technically and the great problem in batting is that when you try and correct one fault, sometimes it opens up areas elsewhere.
"If he is trying to keep his legs out of the way and stay leg side of the ball (to counter the lbw), suddenly he becomes more vulnerable on the outside edge, and England threatened him a lot that way before they got him out."