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First the tears, then black humour

By Angus Fraser

29 March 1998

I CANNOT remember a sadder or more disappointed dressing room than ours following defeat in the sixth Test in Antigua.

Losing as we did was bad enough, but the announcement by Mike Atherton that he was going to stand down as captain made it a very sad and emotional place.

When he said he wanted the whole squad in the dressing room following the presentation ceremony after the game, most of us realised what he was going to do, but watching him struggle to make what must have been one of the hardest speeches he has had to make brought a tear to a few eyes.

His public image is that of a hard, stubborn northerner, but he is a lot more sensitive and caring than he would have you believe. He is also immensely loyal, which makes some of the things written and said about him over the years hard to take. Add this to some of the disgraceful letters that he has received from so-called supporters and you wonder why anybody would want to be England captain.

I certainly wouldn't, not that I'm likely to be asked. My only experience of captaining Middlesex was against Oxford University in 1992 and we lost, so I think I may have blown my chances.

When you win the captain takes the kudos, but when you lose he has to take the flak and we all felt for Athers as he faced the music.

Whoever takes over has a hard act to follow as Athers was respected by all of us, as a cricketer and a man. Respect cannot be demanded, it has to be earned. Athers seldom raised his voice but when he did everybody shut up and listened.

This has left us feeling a bit numb as his resignation signalled the end of an era for English cricket.

It didn't take long, though, for humour at his expense to come out. Athers now answers to 'Ex'. He takes it with a grin but he must be hurting inside. When he was younger, he used to be called 'FEC' - Future England Captain. He hasn't lost that nickname, only it now stands for Former England Captain.

It doesn't take long for other things to change too. The job is hard but, naturally, there are many perks. Three weeks ago Athers was given the use of a brand new Rover for the two weeks we were in Barbados. As I came back from my run on Thursday lunchtime, I saw the car again. This time Adam Hollioake was driving it.

We now turn our attention to the five one-day internationals and getting behind our new captain. The arrival of our specialist one-day players has been a blessing as the enthusiasm and excitement that has been generated by seeing fresh if familiar faces has helped us forget the last few days.

I'm sure there will be several candidates more than willing to fill the vacant position - no doubt most of them will be ambitious batsmen. Adam has the first chance to impress and seems very relaxed about it all. He doesn't lack confidence in his ability or decision-making and you get the impression he knows what he wants from a side and won't worry about upsetting the odd person to get it, which in many ways is similar to Athers.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 29 Mar1998 - 15:42