Cricket: Atherton delays decision

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MIKE ATHERTON is trying to decide how best to start the next fortnight of this winter's West Indies campaign - spending time at the crease or relaxing on a beach.

The England captain had promised himself a break during the three-day fixture against Barbados, which starts today, but yesterday he admitted that he has yet to choose the best preparation for the back-to-back fifth and sixth Tests. England are 2-1 down in the series after their defeat in Guyana; the Barbados Test starts on Thursday and the final match in the series, in Antigua, begins on 20 March.

As an opening batsman Atherton has largely disappointed on this tour, although his second-innings 49 in the second Test victory in Trinidad was crucial in the context of that tough, low-scoring contest.

But scores of nought and one in Georgetown, where Curtly Ambrose twice saw him off with the new ball, put pressure back on Atherton to start producing with the bat. He faced only 19 deliveries in total in the Guyana Test and in the series to date has made only 96 runs in seven innings.

England's management will almost certainly be keen for Atherton to have the game off because, so far, he has played in every match on the Tour and is due a break in readiness for the final effort.

Atherton said: "I had always intended to have this game off, but at the moment I have not made a final decision. We will have to talk it through in selection. I feel fine physically, but the back-to-back Tests coming up will be very tiring for everyone - batsmen as well as bowlers."

One option for Atherton is to play but leave his vice-captain, Nasser Hussain, to lead the side on the field. Atherton will make his final decision this morning and if he does play then John Crawley will drop out.

Jack Russell's selection to keep wicket in this match, already guaranteed, is a clear indication that he will keep his Test place despite a scrappy performance in Georgetown.

"Jack was not the only player who had a bad game in the last Test. And, although he has not made many runs so far, we all know what a good batsman he can be," Atherton said.

"The priority in this Barbados match is to give all the batsmen time in the middle if possible and, in the Test next week, we have to start getting totals like 350 or 400 on the board. That is going to be the key to success for us in the remainder of the series."

Fast bowlers Angus Fraser and Dean Headley will definitely sit out the Barbados fixture, because physically they face a demanding end to the series, but Andy Caddick will play after missing the Guyana Test.

There is also a decision to be made about whether Robert Croft or Phil Tufnell will be the sole spinner chosen for the next Test. The one picked for today's match is likely to be the one in line for Test selection, and Croft looks to have moved ahead of Tufnell after impressing on his Test comeback in Georgetown.