Michael Atherton yesterday revealed that he would like one more attempt at beating Australia this summer before bringing his four-year reign as England captain to a close.
His tenure as captain, however, depends on a successful second leg of the tour and although Atherton continued his wretched run of form, England produced an improved performance on the opening day of their match against a New Zealand XI.
Craig White took 4 for 15 and the pace men, Dominic Cork, Andy Caddick and Chris Silverwood claimed wickets as England dismissed a team containing eight Test players for 138.
Then, despite Atherton's early departure for seven, they reached 106 for 3 by the close as Nick Knight and Alec Stewart took a shine to the home attack. Atherton's failure coincided with a candid admission that the pressures of the captaincy were beginning to affect him. "I can't see me doing it much longer," he said. "If the second part of this winter's tour goes well, then I would like to do the job in the summer against Australia. If it does not go well, then I won't be doing it any longer. That much is obvious."
At Fitzherbert Park yesterday, Atherton never threatened to compile a sizeable innings. He edged Danny Morrison just short of the wicketkeeper, Adam Parore, and also fended off a lifting delivery that lobbed dangerously close to gully. An inside edge against Robert Kennedy brought two more runs but, having steered the young pace man for a four, Atherton fell to the 16th ball. He went back and across to a Kennedy delivery that moved in off the seam and looked plumb lbw. Steve Dunne, the umpire, certainly thought so .
"We must have confidence that runs will come for Mike, and they will," David Lloyd, the England coach, said. "We've got to give him our full support. He's a quality player who is just out of form a bit at the moment." Atherton's problems overshadowed an all-round performance more encouraging than almost anything produced by England in Zimbabwe.
Once Caddick had broken an opening stand of 48 by having Blair Pocock caught in the slips off a lifting delivery, success came at regular intervals. Atherton held a spectacular catch in the gully to remove Parore after he had cut Silverwood, Craig Spearman dragged White's first delivery into his stumps and, before long, the home side were struggling at 98 for 7.
First day of four; England won toss
NZC SELECT XI - First Innings
B A Pocock c Thorpe b Caddick 16
C J Spearman b White 41
A C Parore c Atherton b Silverwood 0
M A Horne c Silverwood b Cork 22
*M J Greatbatch c Cork b White 5
L G Howell c Caddick b Cork 10
J T C Vaughan b White 24
P J Wiseman c Stewart b Silverwood 0
M J Haslam run out 8
D K Morrison c Thorpe b White 4
R J Kennedy not out 1
Extras (lb4 nb3) 7
Total (57.4 overs) 138
Fall: 1-48 2-53 3-58 4-81 5-93 6-97 7-98, 8-125 9-137.
Bowling: Cork 17-7-42-2; Caddick 16-3-48-1; Silverwood 12-4-24-2; White 9.4-3-15-4; Tufnell 3-0-5-0.
ENGLAND - First Innings
N V Knight c Parore b Morrison 46
*M A Atherton lbw b Kennedy 7
A J Stewart not out 40
A R Caddick c Parore b Morrison 7
N Hussain not out 0
Extras (lb4 nb2) 6
Total (for 3, 33 overs) 106
Fall: 1-19 2-94 3-106.
To bat: G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, C White, D G Cork, C E W Silverwood, P C R Tufnell.
Bowling (to date): Morrison 10-2-20-2; Kennedy 8-2-31-1; Vaughan 7-2- 29-0; Wiseman 7-1-22-0; Haslam 1-1-0-0.
Umpires: S D Dunne and D Quested.