Cricket: Atherton emerges into the light
Stephen Brenkley hears that a run of ducks was never a swansong
By his own admission, the last fortnight had been an especially long one. Michael Atherton reflected on this in Port Elizabeth last night with the benefit of his 13th Test hundred behind him.
"There had been one match between Test matches but it was fairly insignificant," he said. "It's different from Tests and it's all a mental battle. I was waiting to get involved again."
Presumably, it must have crossed his mind that one ball early on could do him in again. He had recorded four ducks in a row in overseas Test matches. That must have crossed his mind too. That alone was a measure of Atherton's innings of 108 yesterday, spanning 254 balls and six hours, 20 minutes.
"They always make you work hard for your runs. We got a good start yesterday but they reined in their bowlers today and made you come to terms with the pitch." It was one for patience and Atherton has that in spades. He was grimly composed at the crease but it was there that he was stuck when Nantie Hayward delivered him the ball which got him out.
"If I was at fault it was in being a bit stuck. He's a skiddy bowler and it just caught the inside edge. Things like this can happen but I was annoyed because I was trying to stick in and get on."
It had been the usual fray out there and some ruderies were probably aimed at him yesterday morning when the South Africans were understandably becoming irritated. "I don't want to expand on that. I don't tell tales out of school," he said, and then laughed.
Atherton firmly rebuffed suggestions that the weak back which had caused him so many problems last winter in Australia and early in the summer in England might have persuaded him to quit. He had, he pointed out, played a long sequence of Test matches. "I'm surely allowed one brief period of injury," the opener said.
He also added that he thought it was not beyond England's capabilities to win the match. "Obviously we're second favourites but I've seen Test matches won from worse positions. We've got a spinner, the pitch is wearing."
Not that Hansie Cronje was wearing this. He was aware that his South African team were in the better position and, with England having to bat fourth, he would not mind it if the pitch wore some more.
Cronje heaped measured praise on Hayward, a young, extremely rapid bowler, but also insisted in a timely mind-game that England had had the better of the conditions.
Of Atherton he said: "He's a fighter. He played and missed a few times but sometimes you need a bit of luck and afterwards he played pretty well. He's got a good record against us and that helps."
Hansie was fairly grudging about this, but for good reason. He knows Atherton has scored three hundreds against South Africa and would not want him to get another one this series.
So, where did Atherton figure in the ranks of opposing batsmen? "I don't like rating individual players and I'm certainly not saying anything while the series is going on," he countered. Yesterday, Atherton was right up there.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
Latest in Sport
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Best memes and Tweets, including Lukas Podolski selfie with Angela Merkel
Germany 1 Argentina 0 player ratings
Shakira performs at World Cup closing ceremony at the Maracana
World Cup 2014 final: Vladimir Putin takes seat next to Sepp Blatter at the Maracana
World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi suffers humiliation of walking past World Cup trophy TWICE after being crowned player of the tournament with Golden Ball
- 1 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 2 Orange Is The New Black has not been cancelled – it was a hoax
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 5 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action
£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...
£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy London base...
£25000 - £35000 per annum + bonus + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: IT Sy...
£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...