Atherton scores a ton while the Test heads for a draw

Col (Retd) Rafi Nasim

December 9, 2000

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It was a day for England's batsmen who dominated the field though with a slow and steady display of batting. Creating any excitement in the game by playing thundering strokes was perhaps not on their agenda. Though the test heads for a draw the batsmen achieved the aim of thwarting all types of bowling. The play ended with England at 277 for 4, having scored only 198 runs in a full day's game losing 3 wickets. They trail behind Pakistan by 128 runs with 6 wickets in hand.

The day started with England resuming the innings at the overnight score of 79 for 1 with the batsmen keeping a low profile as far as the rate of scoring was concerned. There were only a few spectators at the stadium to watch the dull and dreary batting. Though Waqar Younis generated lot of pace to restrict the batsmen to a defensive posture, the batsmen also seemed to have decided not to take undue risks. Nasser Hussain was only able to add 7 runs to his overnight score raising it from 13 to 20 in 100 balls.

The 100 of England's innings came in the 9th over of the day with Mike Atherton acting as the main architect, completing his individual 50 in 134 balls. At one time Pakistan launched an all spin attack with Saqlain Mushtaq and Danish Kaneria supported by a ring of close in fielders, but the batsmen were not perturbed. They continued scoring runs at a slow and steady pace. As the scoreboard showed 129, the two batsmen had registered a 100 runs partnership. In 60 overs England was 135 for 1, Atherton (70) and Hussain (38) going strong.

At tea England was 149 for 1, only 66 runs having been scored in 32 overs bowled in the session. The two batsmen were quite successful in their efforts to take England out of the woods. The bowlers received almost no support from the pitch. In the 76th over of the innings Hussain surprised every one by picking up the courage to hit a straight six to Saqlain, hoisting his 50 in 204 balls. Getting out of his defensive groove did not suit him because a little later he was caught in the slips by Inzamam ul Haq off the bowling of Shahid Afridi for a snail paced 51. England was down to 163 for 2. Not only that Hussain achieved the honor of scoring his first half-century of the year, the skipper also accomplished the wonderful task of laying a solid foundation for the innings along with Atherton who continued to hold his post with absolute mastery over the game.

Graham Thorpe who came in to bat was trapped LBW by Waqar after scoring 18 runs in 39 balls. It gave Waqar his 2nd bowling success of the match. England lost the 3rd wicket at 195. Atherton who stood like a stone-wall in the way of Pakistani bowlers at last hoisted in well deserved century with the help of seven fours, after holding the crease for 414 minutes. It was his 16th test century but 1st against Pakistan.

While Atherton remained on the defensive, Stewart played some bright cricket by playing 5 shots to the boundary in the 29 runs that he scored. Trapped in the ring of closein fielders he offered an easy catch to Youhana fielding at silly mid-ff on a delivery by Saqlain. His ouster reduced England to 256 for 4. England was quite capable of piling up a big total as long as Atherton was at the crease. Graeme Hicks, another reputed batsman came in to bat but was not opening up in view of the fading light and the lengthening shadows. He wisely planned to save his wicket for the next day.

The score board showing 276 for 4 and only 2 overs left, playing shots was not considered worthwhile. The two batsmen preferred to remain steady till end of the day that came with England at 277 for 4. Atherton was not out with an invaluable 117 while Hicks was at 12. With Waqar Younis having claimed 2 wickets for 58 runs and Shahid Afridi and Saqlain Mushtaq shared one each, it was not an impressive performance by the bowlers. In contrast the batsmen deserved praise for a brave defense of the innings despite the fact that their slow batting has drawn the test towards a draw.

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