Cricket: Atherton admits his surprise over decision

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MICHAEL ATHERTON, playing himself in as carefully as captain as he does as a batsmen, reacted cautiously to the discovery that his new boss had resigned within a fortnight of appointing him. At first he would only admit he was surprised at the news, which he heard at lunch, but, pressed, admitted: 'I am sorry Ted felt he had to go.

'I understand he was not going to stand next March and for reasons only he knows he feels it is time to step down. There is no reason why he should have told me first.'

The opposing captain, Allan Border, was more succinct. 'I don't know him but the side are not playing well and he is the boss.'

The Australians learned of Dexter's departure through the teletext on the dressing-room television. 'We heard a strange amount of clapping and cheering and thought it must be a partnership record or something, then we looked on teletext,' Border said.

Australia's victory was their 12th in the last 17 Tests against England, during which they are unbeaten by England but have lost series to Pakistan, New Zealand and the West Indies.

'Test matches against England are the most important things in our lives and we play with that fervour. It is up to England to match that,' Border said.

Only Warwick Armstrong's Australians, at home in 1920-21, have ever won an Ashes series

5-0 and Border added: 'To win five is very much in our minds at the moment. I am absolutely thrilled at the way we have gone all tour. We have outplayed England in all facets.'

Atherton was not disputing that, admitting 'there has been a big gulf in terms of performance; 4-0 is a fair reflection.

'I enjoyed the match from a personal view and I was pleased with the boys in the field. If I am given time in the job I want to identify young players who have the bottle to play Test cricket and stick with them. But we need balance, we have to have some experience, you can't just throw 11 youngsters in.'

Atherton said of the shape of the side that five bowlers had fared no better than four against the Australians and, with regard to Alec Stewart wicketkeeping, added: 'We have looked at that and there is no reason why he should not score runs as a keeper. We feel Graham Gooch and myself are the best opening partnership and he (Stewart) is happy to keep but it may be different in the winter.'

Looking to the winter, Atherton added: 'I have not spoken to (Gooch) but he will make up his own mind. If his heart is not in it there is no point in him touring. If he does change his mind he will be very welcome. I'd still like him to play at The Oval.'

Bob Willis, the former England captain, said it was unlikely that the TCCB would appoint someone like him or Geoff Boycott. 'They'd never make that sort of decision,' he said. 'We might be too difficult customers for them to handle.' Ray Illingworth was a strong candidate, he added.

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