Cricket: Butcher confident he can cope with pressure

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MARK BUTCHER will attempt to utilise the mounting pressure weighing down on him to help lift him out of his disappointing start to England's winter tour.

Monday's run-out misunderstanding with Michael Atherton during the drawn match with a Combined Western Province/Boland XI in Cape Town leaves the Surrey left-hander with just 24 runs from four innings, with only two first-class matches remaining before the opening Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.

Butcher's present plight mirrors his struggles at the start of last year's Australian tour, when he entered the first Test in Brisbane with only nine runs from four completed innings but responded by scoring England's only century last winter. He is enough of a pragmatist to accept that, just because it happened last winter, he will not necessarily be able to do the same again, but the fact he performed when it matters will keep him going in the run-up to Friday's four-day match against a Combined Free State/Griqualand XI.

"One of the things I've often found is that when I'm in a pressure situation or there is a real change in emphasis at what's going on, that tends to bring out the best in me," said Butcher, who is also without a half-century in the last 15 Test innings.

"Since Brisbane it's sloped off a little bit," Butcher added, "but there is nothing you can do but keep backing yourself and keep being confident in yourself in the realisation that if you stick with it then you give yourself every chance it will come good again."

Having scored just 86 runs in four innings against New Zealand Butcher was dropped for the last Test of the summer this year, but he earned selection for the tour and is the player England want to partner Atherton at the top of the innings in the Tests.

Unlike last year, however, there are two ready-made replacements in the form of Leicestershire's Darren Maddy and particularly Yorkshire's Michael Vaughan, who has begun the tour impressively with an unbeaten half-century in the opening match and a good all-round performance in Cape Town.

"Everybody out here can play and there are four of us potentially going for two opening spots," Butcher said. "It's good because it keeps everybody on their toes.

"You have to be realistic as well and know you can't keep going out there indefinitely if you're not scoring any runs."