England favourites despite Atherton's caution

As England embark on their most crucial day's game in almost three decades to win the series against West Indies, they fear another hard slog before the outcome of the series is decided.

West Indies go into the final day at 33 no loss needing a further 341 runs to retain the Wisden Trophy they have held since 1973 and their unbeaten run in the last 13 series against England. The high target makes England the favourites at least to avoid a defeat as the previous highest total by West Indies to win was 348 for 5 against New Zealand 31 years ago at Auckland.

Michael Atherton, whose 108 put England in a comfortable position said "We've played some good cricket this summer and it would wrap up a good summer if we do it, but we have a long, hard day ahead of us. I think they'll be trying to win it as well."

The way the Caribbean openers batted in the 14 overs before yesterday's close suggests that Athers is right. With the pride of West Indies at stake with today's performance, Lara underlined their determination by having an extra batting practice after close. However, the circumspect innings of Atherton over seven and half hours should encourage the hosts that the wicket is not suited to play shots.

Atherton admitted it was a very satisfying innings considering the match situation, wearing pitch and top rate bowling and fielding which made him work hard for every run. Whatever it is, Atherton will have the consolation of not having to face the twin threat of Ambrose and Walsh again who have a combined tally of 888 wickets. They both have dismissed Atherton 17 times in Tests.

Having Atherton's wicket, Walsh took his total to 34 in this series just one short of Malcom Marshall's record of 35 taken in 1988. Walsh now has 483 wickets and the question whether he shall strive for 500 as Ambrose has made his decision to quit.

"I heard the ovation for Ambrose and Walsh and they fully deserved the send off they got from the crowd - they've been two great bowlers for the West Indies," added Atherton. He also said that the challenge of facing those bowlers is what Test cricket is about.