England's most experienced batsman delivered a trademark innings of determination and application on the third day. They were traits, however, which were beyond the capabilities of most of Atherton's team-mates as England collapsed to 249 all out in reply to the Combined XI's 358 for 9 declared after losing their last six wickets for 15 runs in 61 balls.
That deficit was stretched to 160 runs by the close, although the bowling of Andrew Caddick, Alan Mullally and Alex Tudor reduced their opponents to 51 for 4 to salvage their disappointing earlier form. "It's a bit early to be worried about the batting because it's everybody's first first-class match of the tour," Atherton said. "We've got two more first-class matches to go - it takes a little bit of time to get the rustiness out."
That said, it has no doubt come as a relief to England's management that they were not facing players of the quality of Alan Dawson, Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Craig Matthews and Jacques Kallis - all injured - while the national selectors rested the unorthodox spinner Paul Adams.
The small band of England supporters was given an early warning of the collapse which was to follow, with Michael Vaughan and Alec Stewart departing inside the first seven overs of the day. Vaughan had played confidently the previous night to resume on 33, but added three more runs before being trapped leg before by Charl Willoughby attempting to push through midwicket. Six balls later Stewart's eventful innings was ended when he played inside a straight delivery from Roger Telemachus, having nearly run out Atherton off his first ball. Those two setbacks raised the possibility of the tourists following on at 87 for 4, still 112 runs adrift of forcing the Combined XI to bat again.
Atherton resumed on 26 and added just 34 runs in the first session. While he took over four hours to reach his half-century, Chris Adams began his innings with a cover drive to the boundary off Telemachus, before hoisting Claude Henderson over long off for six. Having advanced to within 11 runs of three figures, Adams drove Donovan Koch straight to Claude Henderson at extra cover.
Adams and Atherton had added 147 runs in just over three hours and established a platform for the lower order, whose frailties were exposed once Atherton's 394-minute innings was ended when he was yorked by Claude Henderson for 83, with Darren Maddy following just four deliveries later.
Facing a 109-run deficit, the England seam attack responded with Mullally inducing James Henderson into edging straight to third slip with the eighth delivery of their second innings. Mullally trapped Louis Koen leg before, while Tudor had Hylton Ackerman caught at cover. Caddick completed an impressive finale by clipping Rashaad Magiet's off-stump to give England a chance of chasing a respectable victory target on the final day.
CAPE TOWN SCOREBOARD
Third day of four, Combined Western Province/Boland XI won toss
COMBINED WESTERN PROVINCE/ BOLAND XI - First Innings 358 for 9 dec (L J Koen 96, K C Jackson 80, S J Palframan 72, A R Caddick 5-53).
ENGLAND - First Innings
(Overnight: 78 for 2)
M A Atherton b C Henderson 83
M P Vaughan lbw b Willoughby 36
A J Stewart b Telemachus 1
C J Adams c C Henderson b Koch 89
D L Maddy c Palframan b Koch 2
G M Hamilton not out 4
A J Tudor c Telemachus b Koch 0
A R Caddick c Palframan
b Telemachus 8
A D Mullally c Palframan
b Telemachus 0
Extras (b1 lb4 w1 nb11) 17
Total (106.3 overs) 249
Fall (cont): 3-86 4-87 5-234 6-236 7-236 8-236 9-247.
Bowling: Willoughby 26-6-62-2; Telemachus 23.3-5-64-4; Koch 25-4-74-3; C W Henderson 25-17-22-1; J M Henderson 7-1-22-0.
COMBINED WESTERN PROVINCE/ BOLAND XI - Second Innings
R Magiet b Caddick 12
J M Henderson c Butcher b Mullally 3
*L J Koen lbw b Mullally 25
H D Ackerman c Hamilton b Tudor 10
A J Prince not out 1
Total (for 4, 21.2 overs) 51
Fall: 1-6 2-36 3-47 4-51.
To bat: K C Jackson, S J Palframan, C W Henderson, R Telemachus, D M Koch, C M Willoughby.
Bowling (to date): Caddick 7.2-2-22-1; Mullally 8-3-24-2; Tudor 5-3-4- 1; Vaughan 1-0-1-0.
Umpires: I L Howell and R Brooks.Reuse content