Atherton leads from the front foot

SIXTH TEST: England captain leads the resistance but misses century as series ends drawn
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reports from the Oval

England 454 and 223-4 West Indies 692-8 dec Match drawn

No sooner had this Test series been laid quietly to rest on a pitch apparently prepared with embalming fluid, than Ladbrokes installed South Africa 5-4 favourites to win the next one. With the flight to Johannesburg only six weeks away, it was a reminder that international cricket rarely pauses for breath nowadays, and a reminder also that England have too many previous convictions for hope to give way just yet to expectation.

A 2-2 draw against the West Indies represents a decent enough result, yet as Michael Atherton trudged wearily from the field for the last time with a score of 95, it rather mirrored England's own achievement this summer. A job well done, but not quite completed.

They will perhaps regard it as an opportunity missed against a side entitled to feel knackered after a cycle of four series and 16 Tests in the past 10 months, and the West Indies will now be looking forward to a long restorative rest of 24 hours before their next vital match.

Happy though they will be to have retained the Wisden Trophy, tomorrow they will now be psyching themselves up for the really big one - a three- day fixture against Yorkshire at Scarborough for the singular honour of being crowned Tesco International Champions.

Atherton is playing for Lancashire at The Oval today, and will probably be wheeled out to bat in a supermarket trolly. He battled away for a total of 27 and a half hours for a total of 488 runs in the series, was named England's man of the summer by the West Indian manager Wes Hall, while the West Indians' individual gong, adjudicated by Raymond Illingworth, went to Brian Lara, who scored 765 runs from 23 hours at the crease. Illingworth prefaced his citation with the words: "I am sure no-one will disagree with me..." and if Atherton permitted himself a muttered "wouldn't dare, Raymond", theirs is now a partnership which has restored England's - if not yet the bookmakers' - belief in themselves.

It hardly seemed likely that England could surrender 10 wickets on the final day, although this opinion was apparently not shared by Curtly Ambrose, who ran in with the same deadly purpose as he did during England's 46 all out in Trinidad. Ambrose took 7 for 131 in 61 overs here, on a pitch demanding so much hard labour that even Hercules might have produced a sick note.

If England's batsmen harboured early thoughts that the West Indian attack, minus the injured Kenny Benjamin, might not have been terribly interested in wasting their energy, Ambrose swiftly disabused them in his opening nine over spell of 2 for 21.

Steaming in from the Vauxhall End, he may well have ended the tour prospects of both Jason Gallian and John Crawley, and he also put the wind up Atherton with a windpipe delivery which would have resulted in a catch to third slip had there been one posted.

It was Gallian's bad luck that this ball persuaded Richie Richardson to immediately place Stuart Williams there, and in Ambrose's next over, Gallian thick-edged straight to him. Crawley also needed an innings here, but lasted only 11 balls before Ambrose got him caught behind.

The manner of Crawley's dismissal did even less for his tour prospects. The best way to play fast bowling is with a straight bat, but on this occasion Ambrose had a less clear view of the maker's name than the fielder at cover point as Crawley's open-faced prod resulted in a thin edge to the wicketkeeper.

Atherton, though, found a more adhesive partner in Graham Thorpe, who batted an hour and a half for his 38 until a fine delivery from Courtney Walsh, which lifted and cut across the left hander, resulted in a brilliant diving catch from Williams in the same third slip position.

Walsh, like Ambrose possibly making his final appearance in a Test match in England, almost speared a first-ball yorker through Graeme Hick, and Hick's third ball from Walsh was a ballooned splice over the slips. However, Hick dug in to complete his second half century of the match, and make another decent repayment on his overdraft against this type of bowling.

There was still, however, in this series of ambulances and X-rays, time for the last of the summer spray, when the England physiotherapist ran on to administer the aerosol to Atherton's elbow. The captain, having had his rib-cage battered by Ambrose in the first over of this game, was struck a painful blow by Walsh, and his eyes were probably still watering when he responded by hooking an Ian Bishop bouncer for four. Atherton's mental strength is one of his premier assets.

It was, though, extremely disappointing for him when he got out - for the third time in his Test career in the nineties and for the 11th time between 80 and 99 - getting too thin a contact with a leg glance off Bishop after tea. Had Atherton's previous three runs not occupied 48 minutes, it was a delivery he might have ignored.

At least this let in Alan Wells, who otherwise faced the prospect of a one-ball Test career, and this time Wells made three off 39 deliveries. As six of them were bowled by Lara, it was not much of an examination, and while one cap is better than none, it is difficult to see Wells making the 16 to South Africa after next week's tour selection.

Tony Cozier, page 18

England v West Indies 1995

First Test: West Indies won by 9 wkts

Second Test: England won by 72 runs

Third Test: West Indies won by innings and 64 runs

Fourth Test: England won by 6 wkts

Fifth Test: Match drawn

Sixth Test: Match drawn

Series drawn 2-2

England's man of series: Michael Atherton

West Indies' man of series: Brian Lara