Cricket: England's batsmen redeem pride

SECOND TEST: Opening stand thwarts tourists' hopes of victory while Warne finds his form reports from Lord's: England 77 and 266-4 dec Australia 213-7 dec Match drawn
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England have not played the second Cornhill Test well, but yesterday they played it well enough to keep a resurgent Australia from levelling this Ashes series.

It is not often that you save a Test match after being bowled out for 77 but, thanks to a weighty contribution from inclement weather and a spirited performance by Michael Atherton and Mark Butcher, who shared a 162-run opening stand, England can now go to Old Trafford with their precious lead intact.

The day did not pass without its tense moments, however, and, when Australia took three wickets in 18 balls immediately after tea, memories of England's self-destruction here against Pakistan last year, when they lost nine wickets after lunch on the final day, came flooding back.

At that stage England, who had just lost the left-handed Butcher for 87, were 202 for 4, and by no means out of the woods. With Australia declaring on their overnight total of 213 for 7, it meant that with just over 90 minutes to play England's lead was a mere 64.

England have balked before under pressure from marauding Aussies with their tails up. Fortunately, Graham Thorpe and John Crawley stemmed the hiccup with a display of bold broad-batted strokes as Taylor's bowlers tired. Both were unbeaten when Atherton declared 40 minutes from time, 130 runs ahead. Australia had tried gamely, but the pitch, while never becoming easy, had slowed appreciably as both day and ball wore on.

With the day beginning on time, England needed and enjoyed luck against the new ball. At that stage, seam movement and indifferent bounce were still much in evidence, as scuttling "worm burners" mixed with snorters beat the bat, particularly Butcher's, with alarming regularity.

When Butcher's edge was found, by the persevering Paul Reiffel, the chance was spilled. Mark Taylor is a wonderful catcher in any position, and few seemed more surprised than the Australian captain when the chance at first slip went to ground.

To his credit, Butcher did not allow the let-off to panic him and he ploughed on, exasperating McGrath and Reiffel with boundaries not always ending where the stroke intended. McGrath, his fuse shorter than a Koala bear's eyesight, responded by testing the stability of the new England badge on Butcher's batting helmet.

It was undeniably the break both Butcher, who was on two at the time, and England needed, as an early breach would not only have swelled Aussie confidence, but exposed the middle-order to the new ball as well.

But, if Butcher needed a role model, there was no need to look further than Atherton. Resolute, unbending of will and highly experienced in protecting England's rear, the England captain was back in familiar territory. In fact, his cool aplomb in dealing with the opposition's early surge was crucial in helping Butcher to settle. In the end, their 162-run opening partnership was the highest since England played Pakistan at Headingley in 1992.

Lord's has not been a particularly fecund scoring ground for Atherton, and he has never made a first-class hundred here. Ironically, the closest he has come was against Australia four years ago when, slipping going for a third run, he was run out on 99. Having been so close then, it would have irked him to have failed again with the milestone in sight.

However, as a history graduate, it would probably interest Atherton to know that Peter May, the man whose captaincy record he beat in this Test, only ever scored one Test century at headquarters - an innings of 112 against South Africa in 1955.

When it came, the captain's downfall was as unexpected as it was unusual. Normally, when a player treads on his stumps, it is because his shot or his balance is out of control. Neither applied to Atherton as he spoilt a neat clip down to fine leg off Kasprowicz by backing into his off-stump. Perhaps an earlier rap on the forearm from a McGrath bouncer had consciously made him take a larger step back. If not, it was a bizarre end to such a staunch innings, the first time Atherton can remember doing it.

By then, however, Butcher, having reached his maiden Test fifty, was beginning, as they say, to hit his straps with a series of cuts and cover drives.

Opening the innings is the most mentally and technically demanding job in Test cricket. Butcher, despite this confidence-boosting 87, is not there yet, and he needs to eradicate his tendency to allow his bat to get ahead of a stiff front pad. It is the reason Warne later troubled him with turn out of the rough, and he was eventually bowled by one that turned between bat and pad.

After England's roller-coaster win at Edgbaston, Australia have come back strongly here. They may have a little more fine-tuning to do amongst the bowlers, but in McGrath, the Lord's man of the match for his first innings 8 for 38, they now have a bowler brimming with confidence and ire.

Warne, too, looked more dangerous than of late and his removal of Nasser Hussain, caught and bowled for a duck, was leg-spin bowling at its teasing best. With Australia's forces at last beginning to gather, England can ill afford another batting catastrophe like the one here.

From now on, fortune and bad weather are unlikely to favour the weak, and England must return to the robustness that saw them prevail so handsomely at Edgbaston.



Australia won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 77 (G D McGrath 8-38).

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 213 for 7 dec at overnight total (M T G Elliott 112; A R Caddick 4-71).

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Butcher b Warne 87

266 min, 210 balls, 14 fours

M A Atherton hit wicket b Kasprowicz 77

221 min, 159 balls, 10 fours

A J Stewart c Kasprowicz b McGrath 13

29 min, 24 balls, 2 fours

N Hussain c and b Warne 0

5 min, 5 balls

G P Thorpe not out 30

60 min, 39 balls, 4 fours

J P Crawley not out 29

51 min, 45 balls, 4 fours

Extras (b8, lb14, w1, nb7) 30

Total (for 4 dec, 318 min, 79 overs) 266

Fall: 1-162 (Atherton), 2-189 (Stewart), 3-197 (Hussain), 4-202 (Butcher).

Bowling: McGrath 20-5-65-1 (nb2) (8-3-10-0, 4-1-19-0, 8-1-36-1); Reiffel 13-5-29-0 (nb2) (5-2-9-0, 4-0-19-0, 4-3-1-0); Kasprowicz 15-3-54-1 (nb4) (6-2-14-0, 3-1-5-0, 6-0-35-1); Warne 19-4-47-2 (w1) (10-2-22-0, 1-1-0- 0, 8-1-25-2); Bevan 8-1-29-0 (4-0-15-0, 4-1-14- 0); S Waugh 4-0-20-0 (one spell).

Progress (Fifth day): 50: 81 min, 19.3 overs. Lunch: 70-0 (Butcher 24, Atherton 32) 29 overs. 100: 154 min, 37.4 overs. 150: 204 min, 51.3 overs. Rain stopped play: 3.31pm (tea taken) 169-1 (Butcher 66, Stew art 3) 58 overs. 200: 260 min, 64.1 overs. 250: 299 min, 73.2 overs. England declared at 5.21pm.

Butcher's 50: 200 min, 166 balls, 7 fours. Atherton's 50: 165 min, 114 balls, 5 fours.


Umpires: D R Shepherd and S Venkataraghavan. TV replay umpire: D J Constant. Match referee: R S Madugalle.

Man of the match: G D McGrath. Adjudicator: I M Chappell.