Atherton drives England closer to historic victory

Michael Atherton doggedly compiled his 15th Test century yesterday to give England an excellent chance of avoiding defeat at The Oval in the final cricket Test and thereby winning a series against the West Indies for the first time since 1969.

Michael Atherton doggedly compiled his 15th Test century yesterday to give England an excellent chance of avoiding defeat at The Oval in the final cricket Test and thereby winning a series against the West Indies for the first time since 1969.

Atherton was the last man out for 108 after more than seven and a half hours at the crease, having carried England to 217 all out. That left the West Indies with the daunting task of chasing 374 to win the match. They were 33 for no wicket at the close of play with one day remaining today. England lead the series 2-1.

On an emotional day, Atherton was accorded a standing ovation on reaching his century with a single off Curtly Ambrose and another when he walked off the field after being caught behind off Courtney Walsh.

But the capacity crowd stayed on their feet at the end of the England innings to offer generous applause to Walsh and Ambrose, the West Indies' legendary opening bowlers, who were playing together in a Test match for the last time. Ambrose has announced his intention to retire, while Walsh, Test cricket's most successful bowler with 483 wickets, is undecided about his future.

Atherton, a veteran of 102 Tests, has seen England's inconsistent batting from the other end of the wicket countless times during his 11-year career. But he once again held firm as England, starting the day at 29 for 2, lost wickets in flurries.

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