Cricket / Second Test: Atherton sees positive signs in extra grit: Captain's disappointment with draw tempered by pleasure at his side's balance and solidity

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The Independent Online
GIVEN the tension between Michael Atherton and the Fourth Estate, last night's post-Test press conference with the England captain would probably have been a grim one even if England had won by an innings. As it was, his wary, even resentful mood suited a game that, despite England's encouraging performance, ended in anti-climactic disappointment rather than celebration.

'I am obviously disappointed not to have won but pleased with the better performance - we certainly played better than at Lord's,' Atherton said. 'I thought the side had a decent look about it. It looked fairly solid and balanced.

'For four days, we were positive and showed a belief in ourselves that we could win - if you make 477 at Headingley, you obviously have a chance of winning - but they dug themselves out. It was a batsman's game and it was a fairly remote chance of bowling them out today.'

Both Peter Kirsten - whose partnership with Jonty Rhodes, Atherton said, saved the match - and Kepler Wessels, the South African captain, said they felt England had been notably competitive and Atherton added: 'I try and instill a competitive approach before every Test match. We have been inconsistent in recent years, we need greater consistency and more penetration to win games.'

England need to win the next, at The Oval, to square the series and Atherton said: 'Most of our better performances have come on bouncy wickets, we have played fairly well at The Oval in recent years.'

Atherton was pleased with both Phil Tufnell's bowling and Graeme Hick's batting yesterday. 'Graeme played very well, it was exactly what we wanted in the circumstances,' he said. 'It was an important innings for himself - naturally he has been more concerned about his form than anyone - and for the team.

'A top-six batsman must score runs or he loses his place. That is when other things come into play - his catching and bowling have kept him in the side - now, hopefully, he can go on to score a vast number of runs and keep his place at No 3.'

Hick said: 'It is not my best 100 but I'll take it - there has been pressure on me. I feel I have been batting really well this year but I have looked good then got out.'

Hick put his improvement down to a greater confidence in his own methods and, in this innings, his No 3 position. 'I have been listening too long to too many people telling me how to play, I have decided to play the way I want to. I am also more comfortable at three. Making a hundred is the best way to stay there.'

Hick will certainly play there at The Oval, though who he follows may depend on Graham Gooch's hamstring injury.

South Africa will find out tomorrow how badly Allan Donald is affected by the cyst on his toe when he visits a Bristol hospital en route to Torquay, where the tourists now play the Minor Counties.

'He is a key player so we are concerned about him,' Wessels said. 'I am pleased as we can't lose the series from here. We were under pressure for all five days and fought well to get out of it. This rates with some of the good victories we have had.'