Atherton, making his ninth Test match century, batted right through the final day for his best score for England, his heroic 185 not out spanning ten and three-quarter hours in all. Atherton was on the field without a break from Friday afternoon right up until the end of the game last night. Russell, who not so long ago spent a long period out of the side because of his perceived deficiencies as a batsman, joined his captain in what appeared to be a hopeless cause with half of England's second innings wickets gone and nearly five hours of the match still remaining. Russell was almost entirely strokeless for his 25 not out, but was still there at close of play.
Atherton's performance, rated by his manager Raymond Illingworth as "one of the great Test innings" and by the South African coach Bob Woolmer as "brilliant", ranked as a rearguard action alongside Dennis Amiss's 262 not out (9 hours) in Jamaica in 1974, and David Gower's 154 not out (8 hours) on the same ground in 1981.
England began the final day written off at 167 for 4 - requiring a nominal 479 to win - and, although Atherton and Russell both survived dropped catches, lost only the wicket of Robin Smith before finishing at 351 for 5.
A crowd of 14,000 had turned up in anticipation of a South African victory, but most had disappeared long before the end, leaving England's players to be feted by a small but noisy group of their own travelling supporters outside the pavilion.
England have a long history of losing early matches and failing to come back in Test series, but now have a pyschological advantage before the final three games in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
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