Cricket: Atherton caught out by safe hands of Ms Drumm

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Caught by a woman off the bowling of a rugby player, Mike Atherton will probably joke about it one day, but sympathy from two of the world's leading women players was little consolation after becoming the butt of dressing- room humour here yesterday, writes Mark Baldwin from Auckland.

England's struggling captain had planned a few runs and a lot of fun when he volunteered to play in a benefit match for the New Zealand Test bowler, Danny Morrison. He made 10... but did not look too happy after being caught in the deep by Emily Drumm, the only woman playing in the match between the All Stars and the Dream Team at Auckland Warriors' Rugby League stadium.

"I can't remember it," Atherton said after being caught in the deep by Ms Drum, a regular member of New Zealand's Test side who played in the World Cup final defeat by England at Lord's three years ago. Yesterday, she almost dropped the chance to make an even bigger name for herself - but held on to the catch at long-off at the second attempt off the bowling of Ofisa Tonu'u.

"It's a nice honour to catch out Mike Atherton," the 22-year-old remarked pithily. "But I misjudged the ball and nearly wore it in the gob!" All- rounder Emily, whose eight brothers and sisters were among a crowd of 3,000, also picked up three wickets with her medium pace bowling - including that of England's vice-captain Nasser Hussain - but it was Atherton who earned her sympathy. "I sort of feel sorry for him," she said. "He hasn't been the happiest chap out there and I haven't seen him smiling too much, but he's probably got a lot on his mind at the moment. I suppose it was unlucky the catch went to me. It wouldn't have mattered if it had been someone else."

Atherton also received welcome support from Barbara Daniels, the vice- captain of England's women's team and the executive director of the Women's Cricket Association. "On her day, Emily is one of the best women's players in the world," Daniels said. "She is a powerful strokemaker and a more than useful swing bowler and has a good pair of hands - and I think she's played quite a bit of cricket against men's sides."

Atherton sportingly agreed to support Morrison, his former Lancashire team-mate, and took along five of his colleagues for the 20-overs-a-side match, watched by a big television audience as well as a noisy crowd, which was played under floodlights on an artificial pitch.

The England women's captain, Karen Smithies, who has been a critic of Atherton's leadership of her team's male counterparts, said: "Today's events are good for us because it shows to people that women can play cricket, but it is a double-edged sword because we only get this exposure on the back of the men."

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