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Why I believe I pass the one-day test

By Michael Atherton

4 January 1998

PART one of the senior England team's winter plans - success in the Champions Trophy in Sharjah - is complete. The squad were selected with a specific purpose in mind and were excellently prepared, and their eventual triumph came as no surprise to me.

Their success is well reflected in the 13-man initial squad selected for the one-day internationals at the end of our tour to the West Indies. The lines of continuity run strong, as they no doubt will through the triangular series against South Africa and Sri Lanka this summer and through to the World Cup.

The preparations for the 1999 World Cup, however, did not begin in Sharjah but during our 3-0 Texaco Trophy triumph against Australia last summer. It was then that the coach and selectors drew up a preliminary squad of 20 or so designed to see us through to 1999.

The issue of captaincy, then, is of secondary importance. The choice of personnel in this instance is the more important. What is clear is that the selectors are planning ahead and preparations are on track. Naturally, I was delighted to be asked to lead England in the one-day matches in the West Indies. As before, it is clear the selectors treated this tour as a single entity and would like to keep one captain throughout. By all accounts, Adam Hollioake did an outstanding job in Sharjah and I look forward to working with him closely in March. No doubt all those not in Sharjah can learn from the success there as we look to continue that momentum.

My thoughts on the captaincy extend no further than the West Indies. Nor do I think the selectors have shown their future wishes. The triangular tournament this summer and the World Cup in 1999 are, like Sharjah, completely separate entities. I do not believe, however, that the workload in the West Indies will be too great for me. After three months off I feel fitter, fresher and better prepared for this tour than any previous one. Regardless of the captaincy (and to play with success is more important to me) I would like to continue my one-day cricket with England. Obviously, I feel my game is suitably adaptable and while I am not one to shout my credentials from the rooftops, I think that, both domestically and internationally, they stand comparison in one-day cricket.

There is without doubt a growing tendency towards separate squads for one-day and Test matches. David Lloyd described England as ``market leaders'' in this respect while Australia also moved close to divorce by appointing Steve Waugh and not Mark Taylor as captain for the recent World Series competition.

I am a firm believer in the Australian methods of selection. They pick their best XI and then the captain. Australia did not drop Taylor because they felt he was tactically inferior to Waugh, merely because he could not get in their best team. England should also endeavour to put out their best team, home and away, for each and every match and then worry about the captain.

Most pundits and scribes seem to talk as though Test matches and one-day internationals are mutually exclusive. Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe showed in Sharjah that the best and classiest of players can prosper in any form of the game. Most teams in the last World Cup pushed their best players to the fore to make use of the 15-over rule. Mark Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya are so much more than 'pinch-hitters'.

England's team in Sharjah was strengthened by the addition of so-called one-day specialists such as Matthew Fleming but, in my view, they will always be an addition to a nucleus of players who form the core of the team in both forms of the game.

It is Test matches, however, which will pre-occupy us initially. The forthcoming tour presents important tests of strength for the team and we will have a clearer position on our current status at its end. Forget the ludicrously false Wisden table which ignores the nature and location of Test series. For instance, when India toured the West Indies recently, they were ranked second by Wisden despite not having won a Test match, let alone a Test series, away from home for a decade.

It is clear from recent defeats by Australia and Pakistan that we are no match yet for the world's best. It is also clear, from our victories over New Zealand and India along with hard-fought series against South Africa and the West Indies, that we are by no means also-rans. The next two series, therefore, give us an ideal opportunity to state our case before Australia, the venue for our next overseas tour.

Whether people consider us favourites or not this winter in no way worries or inhibits me. I said way back in September that I felt we had an excellent chance of success. To my mind, the recent West Indies tour of Pakistan has little relevance to our own chances in the Caribbean. Pakistan are a formidable side, boasting three, maybe four, 'great' bowlers, and I would have expected them to beat the West Indies. But the 3-0 series defeat has hit the people of the Caribbean hard and the repercussions of a rare heavy defeat could be felt while I was on holiday in Jamaica recently. The nature of recent Anglo-West Indies series has been close and hard-fought and I expect this trend to continue.

I think the Caribbean tour is one which every England cricketer particularly looks forward to. Angus Fraser told me that of all his England tours the 1994 trip to the West Indies was the happiest he had been on. Obviously, there are special ties that bind, with so many England cricketers of the recent past coming from Caribbean descent. Dean Headley, I know, is as excited as a child on Christmas Eve at the prospect of playing at Sabina Park, where his grandfather excelled so often.

For me it is the West Indian people's special feeling for cricket and cricketers and the respect they afford you if you perform well that makes the tour so enjoyable. Whether this tour will be my last as captain is anybody's guess, but I certainly hope I can rekindle the form and fond memories which made my first so special.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:32