Cricket: England pair blunt Pollock's cutting edge

South Africa tormented as Hussain and Atherton go on the attack.
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The Independent Online
THE TREMENDOUS spirit shown by Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton after the early loss of Mark Butcher, did one a power of good. At long last England had two batsmen who were prepared to stand up to a fearsome pace attack and be counted.

It was Hussain who showed the way when Shaun Pollock tried to bounce him. First, there was a splendid hook to the square-leg boundary for four. Another bouncer followed and found the top edge of Hussain's hook, going over fine leg for six.

This was the luck Hussain needed and it goaded Pollock into trying a third bouncer, and this was dispatched out of the middle of the bat for six more handsome runs. These three shots knocked the stuffing out of Pollock who had earlier bowled Butcher. Talk about leading from the front.

To rub it in, immediately after the tea break, Atherton square-cut and drove Allan Donald for four fours in the one over. The maestro who took 11 wickets the week before last in the first Test in Johannesburg, was caught time and again kicking the ground in frustration.

And what an uplifting, unbelievable sight that was. For English eyes. Atherton fresh from his pair of spectacles in the first Test when he had two balls which will not be bettered all series, now stuck out his chin and showed precisely what he is made of.

It was a combination of class and experience from a street-wise performer. There are few frills to Atherton's game. He is not that sort of man. It is a waste of time to sledge Atherton for he absorbs it with that half- mocking smile and his little-boy-lost shuffle that must infuriate his opponents.

Hussain is more mercurial. He dances to a more modern beat than Atherton, whose feet attempt little more than the old-fashioned waltz. The comparison was fascinating and the South Africans began to look like a side which has seen Cinderella suddenly turn nasty.

Of course there was luck involved - there has to be on these occasions. Immediately after Butcher was out, Atherton had to call upon all the resources at his disposal to survive an over Donald will not often better.

When Mornantau Hayward came on, he was fast, exaggeratedly blond and soon displeased. Hussain hooked and edged the ball an inch over the wicketkeeper for four. Hayward mouthed an epithet which would have kept Lord Chamberlain on his toes.

Hussain then reached a long way to drive the next ball, a wide-half volley, for four and Hayward did not enjoy that either. Donald, meantime, had gone off to mooch about and scowl a fair bit at third man and other distant spots.

Hussain's 50 arrived, Donald came back and when Hussain drove his second ball for four, Donald looked like a soul in torment. A short-armed hook by Atherton then took him to his 50. And on it went. It was a real tonic to see such a collective scratching of South African heads.