Cricket: Atherton reveals familiar flaw

Henry Blofeld suggests that the England captain may need to rethink his approach to his bowlers
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The Independent Online
Few dropped catches can have had such a profound effect on a Test match as the one that Graham Thorpe put down at Headingley when Matthew Elliott was 29. It took the sparkle out of England almost at once and led to the dreadful cricket they played on the fourth morning.

From the first ball of the day England had looked like a side that knew it had no hope. The bowling lacked discipline and the fielding was poor.

To be fair, nothing is harder than trying to lift a side after a match has virtually disappeared down the plughole as a result of your own bad cricket. But when things go wrong, Mike Atherton finds it difficult to lift his side and now his own fielding did not help.

Although his communication with his players has improved in this series, when the side is in a tight corner in the field he seems to become a more remote, less communicative figure. He is not good either at conducting a damage limitation exercise. It is as if he runs out of ideas.

He has never been the most flexible of captains and his handling of Mark Ealham in this series demonstrated not only that, but also that he does not easily change his mind either. In the first four Tests, Ealham has bowled only 58.4 overs and he was not given a single one in either innings at Lord's.

He has taken wickets in each of the four innings in which he has bowled and has a total of eight at a more than respectable average of 23.9.

With his medium-paced outswingers, he has looked as likely as anyone to take wickets on each occasion. Yet Atherton has still not worked out a clearly defined role for him and appears only to consider bringing him on when he can think of nothing else.

He bowls him in short spells too, which does not allow him time to work on a batsman. It was rather a surprise when Atherton opened the bowling yesterday with Ealham, who obliged by taking two wickets in his second over but even so he was only allowed a spell of 5.4 overs before being taken off.

Atherton must rethink his bowling plans to include Ealham in a more positive role, otherwise he is going to allow an important asset to go to waste, which is something that England ill afford.

Another catch as important as Thorpe's was dropped in the third Test match in Australia in 1936-37 after England had won the first two. Early in Australia's second innings, Don Bradman was dropped in the covers by Walter Robins, who immediately apologised to his captain, Gubby Allen. "That's all right," Allen replied, "You've just cost us the Ashes." Bradman made 270 and Australia went on to win the series 3-2.