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Atherton's leadership endorsed without limits

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

30 December 1997

IF ENGLAND are to win the World One-Day Cup in 1999 it may yet be Mike Atherton, not Adam Hollioake, who raises the trophy at Lord's. Against the firm expectations of all who witnessed Hollioake's ingenuous, but also composed and mature, approach to the captaincy during the recent tournament in Sharjah, Atherton was named last night as captain for the five one-day internationals at the end of the tour of the West Indies as well as for the five Test matches which form the main business of the tour, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Atherton opted out of the Sharjah trip, spending the time working on his technique with Graham Gooch instead. It signalled, apparently, a certain world-weariness, especially as far as one-day games overseas are concerned. But the impression was false, according to Gooch and David Graveney, who took the decision with Gooch and the third England selector, Mike Gatting, at a meeting near Gatwick Airport shortly before the departure of the A team to Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Hollioake's disappointment - and despite his diplomatic reaction last night disappointed he must obviously be - was assuaged by the announcement that he would take over from Nasser Hussain as Atherton's vice-captain when the one-day games start in late March. Moreover, all but two of the other 13 players he led to a 100 per cent record in Pakistan and the Sharjah tournament, including two wins against the West Indies, were chosen yesterday for the five 50-over games in the Caribbean.

Five of them - Adam Hollioake, Robert Croft, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Dean Headley - are in the main party for the West Indies anyway. The two who have missed the banana boat are Peter Martin, who did not get a match in Sharjah, and Alistair Brown, who fielded superbly and batted unselfishly as a pinch-hitter, but whose technique was exposed as being especially loose in the two games against the West Indies.

Graveney explained that the door had been deliberately left open for anyone who does especially well in the Tests to force his way into the one-day squad. ``The party for the one-dayers will range between 14 and 16,'' he said. That leaves room for three of those currently viewed largely as experts in the two-innings game to extend their tour and bid for the potential glory of a World Cup place.

Atherton was named captain against Australia last summer for all six Test matches and the three one-day internationals before a ball had been bowled and the selectors have never lost faith. Each of them played some part in persuading him to carry on this winter after he had twice given more than serious contemplation to resigning the post - after the defeat at Trent Bridge, which finally decided that Australia would win the series, and again after England's win at the Oval.

He broke Peter May's record of 41 Tests as captain in the Lord's Test in June and has led England in 46 of his 73 Tests. It was, however, his sure-footed control of the three Texaco matches early last season which made the three Gs reconsider Graveney's inclination to pass the leadership of the one-day side to Hollioake. Graveney pointed out yesterday that Atherton was England's ``man of the series'' in those games.

Against top-class fast bowling or when the new ball is moving about he is worth his place in a 50-over match, but his captaincy during the last World Cup in India and Pakistan was hopelessly reactive to the trends set by other teams. It would be fair to say that he has learnt from that bitter experience, but there was much to be said for a division of responsibilities between the one-day captain and the five. Graveney certainly thought so before Christmas, but his two colleagues, who shared cabinet responsibility for this decision, obviously succeeded in changing the chairman's mind.

``Michael was very enthusiastic about taking part in the one-day internationals. He was tactically outstanding against Australia and even after the euphoria of Sharjah this should not be forgotten,'' Graveney said.

Atherton was delighted. ``I've always said I was keen to play one-day games for England and that remains the case. I'm looking forward to working with Adam - he did an outstanding job in Sharjah,'' he said.

``All of us in the West Indies will be keen to find out how things worked in Sharjah and look to continue that momentum.''

Nevertheless the decision, I believe, will shorten Atherton's time as Test captain. To have played as a sort of senior pro to Hollioake in both the West Indies and the 1999 World Cup might have been both effective for the team and a blessing in disguise for Atherton.

ENGLAND SQUAD (for one-day series v West Indies): M A Atherton (Lancs), D R Brown (Warwicks), R D B Croft (Glamorgan), M A Ealham (Kent), M V Fleming (Kent), A F Giles (Warwicks), D W Headley (Kent), G A Hick (Worcs), A J Hollioake (Surrey), B C Hollioake (Surrey), N V Knight (Warwicks), A J Stewart (Surrey), G P Thorpe (Surrey).

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:26