Bible belts Illingworth

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The Independent Online
Mike Atherton, the England captain, has been found not guilty of ball- tampering by cricket's most famous history book. But Wisden is less charitable about Ray Illingworth's part in last winter's Ashes thrashing.

Atherton's performance in the "dirt in the pocket affair" nine months ago is examined by the 1995 Wisden. The editor, Matthew Engel, says the skipper's "evasiveness remains discreditable". But his verdict is that "traditional British justice and commonsense suggest that we should not destroy the career of any sportsman unless the evidence of his malfeasance is absolutely clear-cut. Atherton was the right choice to captain England."

While it was Keith Fletcher who paid the price for last winter's Ashes showing by being sacked, Engel points the finger at England's new manager. "His [Illingworth's] assessments of cricketing character were often awry, hence his preference for Martin McCague ahead of Angus Fraser in the intial selection for the Australia tour," Wisden's editor writes. "He appeared not even to understand the extent to which Australian wickets have slowed up over the past 20 years.

"Everyone respects Illingworth's feel for the game; but he sometimes seemed to forget that one of the beauties of this most complex pastime is that no one ever has a monopoly on cricketing wisdom. One began to feel that the right adjective was the one that never attached to him in his playing days: amateurish."