Cricket: Cool Atherton shuns euphoria

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The Independent Online
At the end, Michael Atherton's practised calm remained flawlessly intact, in spite of the euphoria he must have been feeling behind the cool countenance.

No, he stressed, even after such a resounding start to the Ashes series, he would not be letting the unaccustomed experience of success in this company go to his head.

"I'm pretty good at keeping my feet on the ground," he said. "I've seen the highs and lows before, and while I'm pleased to have started the series so well there is a long way to go. Even though after we had bowled Australia out for 118 we had to back ourselves to win, we have seen in the last two days the fighting quality that the Australians are renowned for."

He did concede, however, that there were aspects of this match unlike any he had come across in his record-equalling 41 Tests as England captain, citing England's bowling on the first morning and the noisy backing of the Birmingham crowd as two examples uppermost in his mind.

"The atmosphere on the first morning was as good as I have experienced. It really does give the players a tremendous lift when the crowd gets behind you like that. It was pretty much the same in the final session today. In that kind of atmosphere with the adrenalin flowing it is difficult to stop yourself going for your shots, as we did.

"And I would say that the bowling during that first session on the opening day was as good a display of swing bowling as I have seen from an England team."

The man-of-the-match, Nasser Hussain, continued his love affair with Edgbaston after winning the same honour last year following his 128 in an eight-wicket first Test victory over India. "This moment beats anything I did from last year. I was pleased this time last year, but this is just incredible. To get 200, bat once and bowl them out twice against a side like that, it's brilliant."

Atherton paid generous tribute to his opposite number, Mark Taylor, on the way he had come through his personal crisis of form with Saturday's century. "Much as I didn't want him to make runs in the context of the match I was pleased for him," Atherton said. "I don't revel in any opponent having the kind of pressure he has been under and his response speaks volumes for him."

Taylor, who steered clear of the media on Saturday evening, appeared yesterday with chin up, as ever. "I was obviously delighted and relieved from a personal point of view. My bad trot is over and maybe it will get a few people off my back for a while," he said. "But I don't like losing Test matches and if I was given the choice I would prefer to get nought and win the game rather than a hundred and lose. The fact is that we were outplayed.

"We face a new kind of challenge now because we haven't lost the first match of a series for quite some time. But it is a time for hard work and logical assessment now, not panic."