A typical Sunday evening in Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in 1998, host to the fourth Test match between England and South Africa. Chasing 247 (to level the series they were trailing 0-1) on a track that was getting flatter, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain were at the crease, with England at 82 for 1, when Hansie Cronje tossed the ball to his spearhead, Allan Donald, hoping to get a wicket.

It was 4.21 running in to bowl at 2.13.

Playing his 46th Test match, Allan Donald had been a high impact bowler. Unsurprisingly, he had gone on to become South Africa’s highest impact bowler ever (min. 30 Tests). Tellingly, he had produced 3 series-defining performances in this relatively short career ( SD ) and was their most consistent bowler ever.

Michael Atherton, going into his 83rd Test match, was no pushover. In the period since his debut, he had the second-highest New Ball Impact (ability to see off the new ball while still scoring runs) and the second- highest Partnership Building Impact for England (both after Graham Gooch).

However, Donald had dismissed Atherton 8 times already in 12 Tests, including the first innings of this match (for 58).

Commencing his second spell in the innings from over the wicket, Donald quickly changed trajectory as he proceeded to unleash a barrage of short-pitched deliveries from around the wicket. He would, soon enough, hurl down a snorter that would surprise Atherton – who took his eyes away – with its sharp rise and kiss the glove en route to being pouched by Mark Boucher. The umpire, Steve Dunne, was unmoved. Nasser Hussain looked away. An audacious Atherton simply stood his ground. Much to the chagrin of the Proteas, who were already celebrating.

The third session on Day 4 then bore witness to a passage of play that is considered as one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling in Test history.

In the forty-odd minutes of pulsating, edge-of-the-seat action, Atherton faced the music courageously, unflinchingly. He was battered and bruised but not defeated.

Following Hussain’s dismissal with England at 192 (after adding 152 for the second-wicket), Atherton and Alec Stewart would take England to a comfortable 8-wicket win. Atherton would stay not out on 98.

In the end, 5.29 had conquered 3.85.

Atherton’s impact in the match was 37% higher than Donald’s (a story much like this).

The gutsy English opener had the highest New Ball Impact and Partnership-Building Impact . That he was also England’s highest scorer in the match and remained unbeaten in the successful chase contributed to his high Match Impact .

Donald, meanwhile, finished the match as South Africa’s highest impact bowler by a mile (6-165 in the match). His effort had more than thrice the impact of their second-highest impact bowler, Jacques Kallis.

England went on to win the fifth and final Test, thereby claiming the series 2-1.

Atherton earned an SD for changing the momentum of the series at Nottingham. He was the second-highest impact batsman in the series while Donald was the third-highest impact bowler.

Interestingly, from here on, Atherton raised his Batting Impact by 12% till the end of his career. He would go on to deliver one more SD performance. Till today, he is England’s fourteenth-highest impact Test batsman of all time (min. 50 Test matches played).

Donald, on the other hand, saw his career Bowling Impact decrease by 14% from what it was at Trent Bridge. He wouldn’t add another SD performance in his career either. As of today, he is South Africa’s second-highest impact bowler of all time – behind a certain Dale Steyn (min. 40 Tests).

How significant was this moment in the context of their respective careers?

 

 

Karthik Swaminathan
Art- Gokul Chakravarthy

 NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.