Atherton hits out at `mischievous reporting'

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There is generally not much love lost between Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen when it comes to cricket, and the England captain, Michael Atherton, and his chairman, Raymond Illingworth, have certainly been doing their best to uphold that tradition during England's tour of Australia.

Illingworth has more than once criticised the team and its tactics, and while Atherton had hitherto confined his less complimentary opinions of Illingworth to private conversation, he went public at the weekend on the generation gap that exists in team selection.

Atherton was quoted in a Sunday newspaper questioning the age of the selectors, saying they should be more in touch with the modern game. "We should have stuck to a policy based on youth," he is reported as saying, "and what we require in order to achieve that are selectors more in touch with the dynamics of the modern game." The captain who gained notoriety for having dirt in his pocket is firmly of the belief that if Illy turned out his own pockets, out would drop his co-selectors, Fred Titmu s and Brian Bolus.

Ergo, with the Illingworth/ Titmus/Bolus alliance effectively operating as a bloc vote, Atherton and Keith Fletcher remain in the minority. Illingworth, on the other hand, frequently says that Atherton usually gets his own way on players, and it adds up to more confusion and division in what is supposed to be a cohesive unit working in harmony for the good of English cricket.

Atherton yesterday took steps to distance himself from some of the comments he is alleged to have made, claiming "mischievous reporting" and saying he asked for a number of comments that appeared in print to be taken out. The reporter, however, says thatAtherton made only one request for a deletion, which was complied with, and that everything else was agreed.

Atherton also back-tracked in saying he was "happy with my input in selecting the tour party, and with my role on the committee". This does not square, however, with his known frustration at not having Angus Fraser in the original squad, nor his feeling that Mike Gatting was no longer a justifiable choice in preference to younger players. there are not many people following this tour who believe that this press conference was anything other than a damage-limitation exercise. Atherton, to put it bluntly,has been totally brassed off with the personnel at his disposal.

The captain is also disappointed with allowing himself to be talked out of John Crawley in favour of Gatting for the first Test, and there is more than a suggestion that Atherton gave way because Gatting would otherwise have spent most of his time in Australia with little to do.

There is no doubt that selection has radically altered since Ted Dexter and Graham Gooch were at the tiller. Dexter was such a hands-off chairman that he might just as well have been replaced in selection meetings by a vase of flowers, while asking Illingworth to remain low profile is tantamount to asking Geoff Boycott to be less opinionated on television.

The bottom line is that if Gatting and Gooch were making big scores over here, and England were winning, the selectors would have been complimenting each other on their wisdom. As it is, the dirty laundry is inevitably being done in public, and there will undoubtedly be a few more grubby items hung out on the washing-line before this tour is out.

Possibly, given some of the curious selections and the occasionally questionable tactics in the Test matches, the ideal solution would be for Illingworth and Atherton to swap jobs.