Captain `may have screw loose'

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The Independent Online
Fears that Mike Atherton could have a screw loose were eased yesterday when the England captain insisted that his latest back trouble is "nothing to worry about".

Atherton, dismissed for seven against Mashonaland, has now scored just nine runs in his three tour innings. However, he has rejected the theory that his increased back pain during the last week has affected his batting form.

Atherton, who went for a precautionary X-ray on his back in Harare, said: "I am fine and I have no excuses for a bad performance. The back's not been too good for the past couple of weeks.

"But for me this tour so far has just been about not being in the middle long enough to know whether I'm in form or not. I think my record speaks for itself and all I need is a couple of hours at the crease."

England's physiotherapist, Wayne Morton, accompanied Atherton to his check-up and said later: "We wanted to make sure that the screw which Mike had inserted in his spine during a back operation five years ago has not worked loose.

"We get the X-ray results tomorrow but provisionally everything looks good. I believe that part of the reason Mike has been so stiff for the past few days is that he has not been well because of the flu virus he brought with him from England.

"He has been suffering from diarrhoea and I don't think that his body has absorbed the daily painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets that he takes."

Atherton, as if to underline his confidence in his fitness, had a net after returning from the precautionary X-ray and then led England on the field but was unable to do anything about the disastrous three-day defeat by Mashonaland.

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