McGrath's edge blunted by captain's hook assault

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The hook is a stroke which has been much maligned over the years. Canny Yorkshiremen were reputed not to consider playing it at least until the middle of July. Then there are the compulsive hookers who find it an impossible stroke to resist at any time of the year and always make long leg feel that he may be in business.

Mike Atherton has had a love-hate relationship with the stroke. It has got him out on several occasions and yet he bravely goes on playing it, as he did twice against Glenn McGrath between the showers here yesterday.

McGrath bowled the first over of the day and the sixth ball was a bouncer. Atherton took it on moving his feet inside the line. It was too high for him to roll his wrists and keep the ball down but he hit it only just behind square and well away from Jason Gillespie at fine leg.

It was a defiant stroke in the way of so many of Atherton's, and it was a brave stroke too because, unable to keep the ball down, there was a strong element of risk about it. But Atherton has become McGrath's "bunny" and he will have been extremely determined to try to show who was the boss here.

A little later McGrath dropped short again and Atherton swivelled and played another hook, this time with rather more control although it was still an uppish affair. This was another stroke which will have irritated McGrath and yet at the same time it will have left him with more than just a feeling of hope.

The hook, as it was played by Viv Richards, was a murderous stroke which took the ball away, usually through midwicket, for four. His namesake, Barry, dismissed the short ball from his presence as if it was the simplest thing in the world ­ which it was for him. There was no element of risk here.

Atherton will never play the stroke as these two did. The heart will always leap up into the mouth when he takes on the bouncer, as he did on both these two occasions against McGrath. But it was the spirit behind the stroke which was so admirable and splendid, and showed that there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet.

It was stirring batting and part of a fascinating battle within a battle. Atherton then left Jason Gillespie in no doubt as to his intentions either. With two glorious cover drives for four ­ strokes that did not have even the tiniest element of risk to them. Later, there was an equally peerless on-drive also against Gillespie.