Atherton feeling positive

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The Independent Online

Mike Atherton led England's team off to South Africa last night, delighted with the way his management relationship with Ray Illingworth is going - and not a bit perturbed by Illy's insistence on being totally in charge.

England's battle-hardened captain, his batteries recharged after a month's rest, spoke of how much he was looking forward to the historic 14-week tour, England's first to South Africa for 30 years.

And, before boarding the flight to Johannesburg from Heathrow, Atherton said: "Raymond has been given a particular job by the Test and County Board and he wants to have the last say. I'm happy for it to be that way, but I don't think he's going to ignore whatever I have to say.

"I've had a lot of input during the summer and I think we have both learnt things. In fact, as far as selection of the team is concerned, I don't think there will be any real change compared to previous tours, even though Ray will make any final decisions.

"Our relationship has progressed to a level where we get on extremely well - but the most important thing is how it works within the England team. I felt during the summer that the players were very happy with the way things were going and it makes a lot of sense for Ray to be with the team this winter as manager for 100 per cent of the time.

"There will be no lack of communication, nor will there be anything misconstrued - as possibly happened last winter. I like to have someone around to talk tactics, both during and between matches - it will be nice to have Ray around for the whole tour."

Atherton said he felt the five-Test series will be very similar in style to this summer's contest with the West Indies. He said: "It will be dominated by pace, but we have the batsman who can handle that. We have a lot of really good players of quick bowling, as we showed against the West Indies, so we will have no fears on that score.

"My real hope is that we get more luck than in previous years with injuries, and that especially our three quickest bowlers - Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork and Darren Gough - stay fit.

"I hope the South Africans remember Devon from when he took nine wickets against them at The Oval - and it's up to Devon to reproduce that form.

"All our players are confident that we can beat South Africa, but we must keep playing the sort of cricket that we produced this summer. In the past our away form has been poor. We've got to change that."

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