Atherton has had a rum old time of it this winter. He has been alternately dubbed Captain Grumpy, Calamitous and Blunder in the space of a few months. Throughout the speculation the England captain has kept his own tight- lipped counsel and will no doubt afford himself a wry smile now that the Captain Courageous tag is about to resurface.
He began the third morning well, bringing up his half-century with a neatly punched cover drive for two. He even managed to outshine the flowing Stewart, whose brilliant form has now reached the highest plateau of his Test career.
In any other circumstance Stewart's knock would have been the main attraction. However, so rich is the pathos that currently surrounds his skipper that even a Test century as fluid as this one was always destined to play second fiddle once the captain had reached his fifty.
Apart from a palpitating moment when he was almost caught and bowled by the off- spinner Dipak Patel, Stewart was largely untroubled, cutting and pulling the quicker bowlers as if swatting at a bothersome fly.
Patel, who was not brought on until the 47th over bowled tidily, even getting some turn out of Alan Mullally's foot marks outside the right- hander's off-stump. In fact it was Patel who helped tie Stewart down in his nineties, a frustrating period which forced the risky single that brought up Stewart's hundred, as well as the near demise, through a run- out, of his captain.
Stewart came close to departure shortly after he passed his hundred. Justin Vaughan caught him on the front pad, and after a huge appeal, umpire Steve Dunne's left arm twitched as if about to deliver a fatal verdict before he finally anounced not out.
Third day; England won toss
NEW ZEALAND: First innings 390 (S P Fleming 129, B A Pocock 70, C L Cairns 67; D Gough 4-91)
ENGLAND - First Innings
(Overnight 123 for 1)
*M A Atherton not out 79
A J Stewart not out 104
Extras (lb4, nb1 5
Total (for 1, 68 overs 193
To Bat: N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, C White, D G Cork, D Gough, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell.
Bowling: Morrison 13-4-42-0 , Doull 19-6-50-1, Cairns 10-1-50-0, Astle 4-1-8-0, Vaughan 11-1-29-0, Patel11-5-10-0
Umpires: S A Bucknor and R S Dunne
Atherton finds his feet, page 22