Atherton retained as captain for winter tours

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The Independent Online
Michael Atherton was yesterday re-appointed as captain for England's winter tours to Zimbabwe and New Zealand. With alternative candidates presently thinner on the ground than good conkers, he was unanimously voted in by the selectors despite the England team's patchy form this summer, where the promise of an early series victory against India was overshadowed by the recent loss against Pakistan.

Now 28, Atherton has captained his country 35 times in Tests, winning eight, losing 13, and drawing the remainder. A record that, while uninspiring, does lend some credibility to the claim that, under him, England have become a more difficult side to beat.

What is more, should he remain fit to captain all five of this winter's Test matches - two in Zimbabwe, three in New Zealand - he will move to within one Test of Peter May's tally of captaining his country 41 times. A record that, barring calamity, Atherton ought to equal and then beat during the Ashes series next year.

It is an unusual longevity, considering the ephemeral nature of most sport and one that might not have happened had he resigned six months ago, after the low ebb of another sapping and humiliating winter.

However, a rest and a chat with David Lloyd, England's newly appointed coach, persuaded Atherton otherwise and he was again picked to captain England, a post he has now occupied uninterrupted since 1993, when he first grasped the nettle from Graham Gooch.

But although the experience has hardened him, three years is a long time to bear the burdens of a moderately successful side, and it was suggested at the start of the season, that Atherton, along with one or two other players, might have taken one or other part of the coming winter off.

Apart from the possibility of the overworked Dominic Cork missing a portion of the Zimbabwe leg, that is no longer the case and in a recent interview Atherton was quoted as saying: "With only a limited amount of time at the top, I'd prefer to spend it playing Test matches than resting.''

He will be the last captain appointed under the present chairman, Raymond Illingworth, who retires soon after the touring parties have been chosen. As outgoing chairman Illingworth said: "The selectors and myself are delighted that Mike has accepted the offer to captain England. We wish him and the rest of the team the best of luck.''

County reports, Scoreboard, page 24