On this day: Allan Donald and Michael Atherton engage in a brutal duel

Cricket is a team game but it also allows individual battles. When a batsman is stuck at one end facing a fiery pace bowler or a wily spinner, none of his teammates can help him. He has to fight his own battle and survive. On 26th July 1998, England opener Michael Atherton had to fend off a raging Allan Donald who was baying for his blood. It resulted in one of the most iconic duels in the history of Test cricket.

Before the fourth Test in Nottingham, South African had taken a 1-0 lead. Their 10-wicket victory at Lord’s was the only decisive result in the 5-match Test series thus far. In Trent Bridge, South Africa were asked to bat first and managed to post 374 with captain Hansie Cronje’s 126.

In reply, England began with an opening stand of 145 runs. Donald then sent both the openers back in the pavilion to induce a collapse. Mark Ramprakash’s unbeaten 67 carried England past 300 and they eventually finished on 336. Angus Fraser (5/62) and Dominic Cork (4/60) wrapped up the visitors for just 208 runs. England needed 247 runs in a day and a half to square the series.

The battle begins

Mark Butcher was dismissed when England had added 40 runs for the first wicket. The South Africans sensed that this was their chance to get back in the game and flatten England. Cronje decided to unleash his most ferocious weapon on the opposition – Allan Donald, also known as the White Lightning.

The score had moved to 82/1 when Donald struck gold, or so he thought. Bowling round the wicket to Atherton, the South African extracted vicious bounce. Atherton gloved the delivery to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher but the umpire was unconvinced. The decision infuriated Donald and he decided to take out all his fury on the culprit batsman. When Donald was not bowling fast and short, he was slinging verbal volleys at Atherton. The English opener stood alone at the crease, saving his wicket and his life.

Atherton tried every trick in the book to resist Donald. He swayed out of the way when possible, he absorbed the blows and also attacked the short ball when it was wide. Donald then produced an opportunity at the other end but Boucher spilt a straightforward chance given by Nasser Hussain. The English pair survived till the end of the day to finish on 108/1. On the fifth day, Atherton fittingly struck the winning runs and finished on 98 not out.