Cricket: England preserve their Ashes advantage

David Llewellyn on how determined cricketers overcame the odds at Lord's

A relieved Michael Atherton last night admitted his England side got themselves out of an awkward situation, having been outplayed by Australia between the storms in the second Cornhill Test at Lord's. In the end, they cruised to a comfortable 266 for 4 when Atherton declared the second innings, leaving Australia to score an impossible 131 off the remaining eight overs to level the Ashes series.

It was academic - and Atherton was able to draw some positive things from what little had taken place. "We batted well today," he said, "and got ourselves out of a potentially dodgy situation. Australia played better than we did, but for us to have batted through a day with the ease that we did today was good for our confidence. When I took over as captain, we were making a habit of defeat, now at least we are better at not losing."

Atherton also paid tribute to the way the tourists have come back from the first-Test defeat at Edgbaston. "I think they have pulled themselves up a lot since the first Test. They have a pretty aggressive approach to Test cricket."

Mark Taylor, the Australian captain, was also pleased. "We have bounced back and bounced back well in this game. We are capable of winning three out of the last four Tests. And all we need to do to retain the Ashes is to win one of them."

Yesterday, Atherton and Mark Butcher set the standard for the rest to follow. Atherton, who has yet to score a first-class hundred at Lord's, let alone one in a Test match, fell a frustrating 23 runs short. He admitted: "I don't think I have ever trodden on my wicket before. I knew exactly what had happened."

But Atherton was pleased for his opening partner and said: "It was a test of character for Butch. He is a good player, but he needed that. The longer he was out there, the more fluent he became."

Butcher himself said: "Batting with Athers helped me. He's a good partner to have at the other end, he's seen it all before and he has played before in those situations. I knew this was make or break time. I hadn't really shown the way that I can play. So there was a bit of pressure on me this morning.

"With what has been happening to me this season, I had to play myself into form. That was effectively the hardest net I've ever had. But I am thrilled to bits.

"I felt really down on Saturday and had to make a conscious effort to lift myself. If there is one thing I hate more than anything in the world, it is dropping catches. I can get out for nought and it doesn't bother me as much as dropping catches. It was hard at the time, but the guys were really good to me and told me not to worry, it happens. They talked me through it and helped me out."

Derek Pringle, Henry Blofeld,

Scoreboard, page 28

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