Cricket: Atherton begins to feel the heat: England stumped by mood swinging from cheery to fretful as bowlers give cause for concern before today's one-day international

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AN overseas cricket tour is as much a test of the officers as the men, and as England take the field for the third of five one-day internationals today, the peaceful, laid-back atmosphere of this small Caribbean island is not entirely in keeping with a collective mood that has changed from cheery to fretful in little more than a week.

The most outwardly phlegmatic of the three men in charge at the moment is the tour manager, MJK Smith, which is scarcely surprising in that he is the one with the least involvement in the cricket itself, and that Smith in any event is from the same school of deadpan sang- froid as another Smith better known by his initials, the TCCB's chief executive AC.

While AC is as well known for what he does not say as what he does (most famous example: 'No comment, but don't quote me. . .'), MJK can almost make him sound like a dangerous blabbermouth by comparison. 'Law 42? What's that then?' he said when asked for his views on Courtney Walsh's intimidatory bowling to Devon Malcolm in the Test, and the late Brian Johnston was fond of recalling that when MJK captained the MCC team to Australia in 1965, the most controversial public utterance he ever made to a press inquiry was: 'The boys are all well.'

Smith would, of course, be hard pressed to come up with that comment at the moment, as the boys are far from well. Malcolm is back in England - although after yesterday's successful keyhole surgery in Manchester to remove 'loose fragments' in his right knee, he may rejoin the team in 10 days or so - and Andrew Caddick has a shin problem that is more of a handicap to his bowling than those in charge here are letting on.

Angus Fraser is a long way from being the bowler who used to hit the pitch hard, and with metronomic accuracy, and Chris Lewis remains a complete enigma even to his team-mates. Lewis's penchant for turning it on when he feels like it (which is not very often) has not made him the most popular of tourists, and his complex character is unlikely to take a favourable upturn at the loss of his one close companion in the side, Malcolm.

Neither is the team manager, Keith Fletcher, his normal unflappable self as the pressure (more from within himself than the TCCB) mounts on him to preside over better results. In five overseas Test matches, Fletcher has a 100 per cent record of failure, and as the man most closely connected to Essex's pre-eminence in county cricket since the late 1970s, he is simply not used to losing.

During the second one-day international in Jamaica, and particularly when England's attack was being carved up in the closing stages, Fletcher - who normally sits on the balcony in a manner that suggests he is expecting a waiter to arrive with a dry martini - was up and down like a hotel lift, and was in much the same agitated state as a soccer manager in a dug-out after his defence has just scored three own-goals in five minutes.

There are also signs, and it would be surprising if there were not, that even the outwardly imperturbable captain, Mike Atherton, is beginning to feel the heat. As he has already spoken (with some feeling) about not taking kindly to people who do not perform to their ability, Atherton may be harbouring some uncomplimentary thoughts about Lewis, and while Malcolm was never going to be a key component in the one-day internationals, his absence certainly deprives Atherton of a proven wicket-taker.

Atherton is thinking of taking the dust covers off Ian Salisbury, who is named in the 12 for today's third one- day international at Arnos Vale. If the Sussex leg-spinner plays it will be his first outing for more than three weeks. The left-arm spinner, Phil Tufnell, has not posed many problems during the two one-day internationals in Barbados and Jamaica, so it could be Salisbury's turn to show what he can do.

While Atherton can do little about bowlers who cannot land the ball in a consistent spot, his field placings while Adams was whipping the ball through the on side during the last one-dayer were a little puzzling, and although the captain batted heroically while Walsh was threatening to decapitate him during the Test, there were signs of a twitchy reaction to that going over during the one-day game in Jamaica.

Atherton has the inner fortitude and strength of character to stay on top of the job, but, as he is currently finding, no tour provides a sterner examination of leadership than three months in the Caribbean. At the moment England have a sticking plaster over the slow puncture but, in terms of morale, victory today is far more important than is usually the case in a one-day international.

ENGLAND (from): Atherton (capt), Stewart (wkt), Smith, Hick, Maynard, Hussain, Lewis, Salisbury, Watkin, Igglesden, Fraser, Tufnell.

WEST INDIES (from): Haynes, Lara, Simmons, Richardson (capt), Arthurton, Adams (wkt), Harper, Cummins, W Benjamin, K Benjamin, Walsh, Ambrose, Holder.

TCCB acts on boozers, page 38

(Photograph omitted)