Butcher's innings attracts universal acclaim
Mark Butcher's magnificent innings of 173* attracted tributes from all quarters as the England and Australian teams reflected on the gripping Fourth npower Test at Headingley.
Adam Gilchrist summed it up neatly. "That has to be one of the greatest Ashes Test innings of all time," he said.
The Australian captain had inadvertently allowed England back into the game with his declaration on the fourth evening, but insisted that he had no regrets.
" It was a great day for cricket. I have no regrets and will not be going into my shell over the declaration," he said.
Indeed, Gilchrist defended his decision, and suggested that rather than blaming the declaration, Butcher's wonderful innings should be credited with the remarkable result.
"I felt like we controlled the game up until the moment when Butcher came to the wicket," Gilchrist explained. "We knew there was a risk of defeat. That is the risk you take, and it is a good feeling to sit back now and know it was such a great day for so many people.
"We did not know the wicket was going to play so well, and we did not know someone was going to play the innings of their life. I have never seen so many of our guys going up to congratulate someone at once."
But Australia's stand-in captain admitted that the pain of defeat was pretty hard to take, saying: "It means a great deal to me to be captain and it hurts a great deal to lose."
England captain, Nasser Hussain, whose return to the Test team has once again provided the catalyst for an incredible resurgence in the fortunes of his team, also praised Butcher's great innings.
"I have seen him play as well as that but get only 20s and 30s," he said. "He has always looked an accomplished player and Duncan (Fletcher) and I have been left scratching our heads as to why he has got out. But today he took his game on to another level in a phenomenal innings."
He also praised Australia's enterprising declaration and the positive manner in which they approach the game.
"Australia are playing cricket the right way," he said. "It is great to see, and I commend their team and captain for that. We would like to thank him for setting up that game with the declaration."
Mark Butcher's father, former England player Alan Butcher, was understandably proud to state: "That's the best innings he has ever played."
"He played magnificently today, superbly well. It is difficult to see how he might have bettered that," Butcher senior, the man who Mark credits with rebuilding his game in the winter of 2000-2001, said.
"I thought he has played well throughout the series without making a big score and I thought he was due a big score.
"That is the best innings he has ever played. Given the circumstances of playing Test cricket against the best team in the world there is no comparison. This has been the icing on the cake and the cherry on top. The fact that he saw it through to the end was especially pleasing."
Former England great Graham Gooch was also quick to praise England's man of the match.
"I rate it as a great Test innings against a formidable attack on a Headingley pitch," Gooch reasoned.
"After the early couple of wickets and new ball had gone soft Butcher played magnificently and did not put a foot wrong."
But Gooch also noted the vital role played by Hussain in England's triumph.
"Nasser Hussain's batting was also of great benefit to Butcher in a partnership which set up the win."
England veterans, Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart declared that they couldn't recall ever having witnessed a better innings.
"I cannot remember a better innings, certainly a match-winning innings," Stewart said, while Atherton agreed: "I watched virtually every ball and thought 'what a fantastic innings.' It was a pleasure to watch him. You won't see a better innings than Mark's today."