Cricket: Atherton sets tide turning

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New Zealand 347 & 95-6 England 228

It was the most entrancing day of the series. England clawed back the unpromising situation of a 119-run deficit through their spinners after Michael Atherton had ended the innings on an unbeaten 94 - only the seventh Englishman to carry his bat in a Test. But while the captain was inspirational, Bryan Young's refusal to leave the field when given out to a contentious catch was reprehensible, and blotted the occasion.

As a back-to-the-wall battler, Atherton has few equals in the modern game. He may not set up many winning totals, but he is nearly always close to his best when the options have been narrowed and the odds lengthened. Only then does he seem to get that buzz which some call adrenalin, but which is really pleasure derived from being obdurate at someone else's expense.

It was not all dogged defence and stolen singles either, and when the moment was right he played some lovely controlled hook shots off the faster bowlers as less disciplined team-mates came and went at the other end. "It is the kind of pitch where you've got to concentrate all the time," he said. "The odd ball is always doing something."

However, the most pleasing aspect from a personal point of view must have been the way he has overcome the wretched form that bedevilled him in Zimbabwe and then followed him for the early part of the tour here.

"I feel that I've played well since Hamilton, where I put in a lot of hard work," he said. "Cricket constantly throws up challenges for you, and you are never really on top of the game. It's how you react to those challenges and how you come back, that counts."

Throughout the innings, which spanned 84.4 overs, only Cork and Croft stayed with him long enough to build useful partnerships. Mind you, Cork's dismissal, having a wild pull at the fifth ball of the day, was as reckless as things got and further proof that his mind appears to be on other things.

Croft, by contrast, played with nous and an admirably broad bat, at least until an outrageous slow full toss from Nathan Astle lured him to his doom.

Croft has recently made a habit of being in the thick of things, and after his five wickets in the first innings he was back at work, this time with Phil Tufnell to keep him company. With the spinners bowling in tandem for most of the final session England managed to apply concerted pressure, and they ended the day with two wickets apiece.

However, it was Tufnell's removal of Young, caught by Nick Knight at silly point off bat and pad, that raised the biggest brouhaha of the day. Young, having played well for his 49, was clearly upset at being given out by umpire Darryl Hair, and he continued to stand his ground shaking his head.

From the body language out in the middle, it became clear that the batsman felt that Knight had scooped the ball on the bounce rather than catching it cleanly. Normally, a fielder knows if the ball has bounced or not, but so quick were Knight's reactions in snatching it out of the dust at full stretch that even he would have been guessing.

Even repeated replays of the catch proved inconclusive, except to illustrate that even the most advanced technology is not yet ready to be used to confirm anything other than line decisions like run-outs and stumpings, for which it is already used.

As Young stayed put, Hair decided to have a brief consultation with his colleague Steve Dunne at square-leg, as to whether the ball had carried. But whatever Dunne's verdict was, Hair saw no cause to retract his original decision and he raised his finger for a second time, at which point Young departed shaking his head - an action Atherton for which was fined pounds 1,250 by Peter Burge after he had been adjudged leg before against South Africa at The Oval.

The umpire's finger cannot be disobeyed, so it was not surprising when Burge - the match referee again here - convened the usual International Cricket Council inquiry for when matters of conduct have been breached.

Somewhat surprisingly, given his penchant for handing out stiff penalties, Burge found there were no grounds for action, saying that he accepted Young's explanation, that he had not seen the first occasion that Hair had raised his finger.

The controversial catch was just one of three taken by Knight at silly point as New Zealand did their best to waste their substantial first-innings advantage. Once again, England's fielding and catching were of the highest order, and little went begging around the bat once Dominic Cork made the early breakthrough and Darren Gough had Adam Parore caught behind the stumps.

Before this winter, finger spinning for England was virtually redundant as a means of winning Test matches. Under Atherton it is enjoying something of a resurgence - and, judging by the amount of overs Tufnell and Croft have bowled, one that is long overdue.


England won toss

NEW ZEALAND - First innings 346 (S P Fleming 62, A C Parore 59, C L Cairns 57; R D B Croft 5-95).

ENGLAND - First innings

(Overnight: 145 for 5)

*M A Atherton not out 94

(347 min, 235 balls, 10 fours)

D G Cork c Parore b Davis 16

(56 min, 44 balls, 2 fours)

R D B Croft c Davis b Astle 31

(83 min, 67 balls, 5 fours)

D Gough b Vettori 0

(8 min, 9 balls)

A R Caddick c sub (C Z Harris) b Allott 4

(26 min, 23 balls)

P C R Tufnell c Young b Doull 13

(15 min, 15 balls, 2 fours)

Extras (lb3, w1, nb6) 10

Total (347 min, 84.4 overs) 228

Fall continued: 6-145 (Cork), 7-198 (Croft), 8-199 (Gough), 9-210 (Caddick).

Bowling: Allott 18-3-74-3 (nb3, w1) (7-2-35-2, 5-1-14-1, 2-0-7-0, 2-0- 8-0, 2-0-10-1); Doull 17.4-3-49-1 (6-0-15-0, 4-0-12-0, 5-2-14-0, 2.4-1- 8-1); Davis 18-2-50-1 (nb3) (10-0-30-0, 6-2-16-1, 2-0-4-0); Vettori 12- 4-13-1 (1-0-5-0, 3-1-2-0, 8-3-6-1); Cairns 8-5-12-1 (one spell); Astle 11-2-26-2 (3-0-11-1, 8-2-15-1).

Progress: 150: 220min, 52.3 overs. 200: 304 min, 74.1 overs. Lunch: 210- 8 (Atherton 92, Caddick 4, 80 overs). New ball taken immediately after lunch. Innings closed: 1.31pm.

Atherton 50: 172min, 107 balls, 6 fours.

NEW ZEALAND - Second innings

B A Pocock b Cork 0

(3 min, 4 balls)

B A Young c Knight b Tufnell 49

(166 min, 135 balls, 5 fours)

A C Parore c Stewart b Gough 8

(83 min, 55 balls)

*S P Fleming c Knight b Tufnell 11

(31 min, 34 balls, 1 four)

N J Astle c Hussain b Croft 5

(36 min, 36 balls, 1 four)

C L Cairns not out 5

(48 min, 39 balls)

S B Doull c Knight b Croft 5

(22 min, 19 balls, 1 four)

M J Horne not out 4

(15 min, 17 balls)

Extras (lb5, nb3) 8

Total (for 6, 206 min, 56 overs) 95

Fall: 1-0 (Pocock), 2-42 (Parore), 3-61 (Fleming), 4-76 (Astle), 5-80 (Young), 6-89 (Doull).

Bowling: Cork 6-2-5-1 (one spell); Caddick 7-1-17-0 (nb2) (one spell); Croft 20-10-25-2 (4-1-6-0, 16-9-19-2); Gough 5-2-19-1 (one spell); Tufnell 18-8-24-2 (nb1) (one spell).

Progress: Tea: 42-2 (Young 29, 21.2 overs). 50: 95 min, 23.3 overs.

Umpires: D B Hair and R S Dunne.

TV replay umpire: D M Quested.

Match referee: P J P Burge.