Atherton fine casts doubt on captaincy: Test match referee rules that dissent after dismissal breached cricket's code of conduct

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DOUBTS over Michael Atherton's ability to hang on to the England cricket captaincy for the rest of the summer and the winter tour to Australia resurfaced last night when he was fined for dissent during the third Test match against South Africa at the Oval.

Atherton was fined half his match fee (about pounds 1,500) for what Peter Burge, the match referee, decided constituted dissent after being given out lbw for a first-ball 0 by the English umpire, Ken Palmer. Palmer construed Atherton's body language - expressing clear disapproval with the decision and looking at the bat as he walked back to the pavilion - as being within the bounds of acceptability.

Burge, who had warned Atherton about his future behaviour after he was fined by England's chairman of selectors, Raymond Illingworth, over the 'dirt in the pocket' ball-tampering allegations during the first Test at Lord's last month, took a different view.

At the close of play he interviewed Atherton, Keith Fletcher, the team manager, Alec Stewart, the vice- captain and - separately - the two match umpires, and then issued the following statement: 'I find that Michael Atherton, the England captain, did show dissent at umpire Palmer's decision by indicating that the ball had hit his bat and shaking his head after leaving the crease. I consider this to be clearly in breach of Code 3 of the International Cricket Council Code of Conduct and Law 42.1 of the Laws of Cricket. Decision: Fined 50 per cent of his match fee and severely reprimanded.'

Atherton left the Oval for a dinner engagement with a stony face and without comment, as did the Test and County Cricket Board's chief executive, Alan Smith. Apart from confirming that Burge had interviewed Atherton, Illingworth was silent.

Fletcher said afterwards that he was forbidden under ICC rules to comment directly on Burge's adjudication, but his demeanour and peripheral comments clearly indicated that he disagreed.

'We have watched the video. You (the press) watch it and make your own decision.' Was it, he was asked, given the scrutiny of Atherton's life since Lord's, ill- advised for him to have reacted at all to an umpire's decision? 'Everyone's human,' Fletcher replied. He added that he hoped Atherton would remain as England captain as he was clearly the best man for the job.

'It is sad that something like this should have marred a good day's Test cricket,' Fletcher said. 'Mike certainly did not say anything on the field, and I really hope this does not spell the end of his captaincy. So far this series both teams have been whiter than white but with the cameras on you all the time you can't do anything, innocent or not. Mike has accepted the decision. You have to. There is no right of appeal. No nothing.'

(Photograph omitted)