Cricket: Atherton to stay as England captain

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MIKE ATHERTON will today confirm that he is to continue as the captain of England. Atherton last night asked his county, Lancashire, to organise a news conference at Old Trafford. 'He wants to make a statement and clear the air,' Richard Little, the Test and County Cricket Board spokesman, said.

Atherton has been under enormous pressure to resign following the alledged ball-tampering affair during the First Test against the South Africa at Lord's last weekend. But he is determined to carry on - and will today emerge from hiding to face his critics.

Atherton has been supported throughout by Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, and senior officials of the Test and County Cricktet board. Their backing has convinced him he can remain at his post, even though there have been widespread calls from outside the game's establishment for him to resign.

Atherton was fined pounds 2,000 by Illingworth last Sunday for having dirt in his pocket and failing to inform the match referee, Peter Burge, of that fact during an inquiry into alledged ball-tampering after play had ended. Burge later condemned Atherton for acting 'foolishly' and misleading him by failing to give him the full facts.

It looked for 48 hours as though the 26-year-old batsman would have to resign, but he has ridden out the initial storm and now believes he can stay in charge.

Today's news conference in Manchester will, however, be a severe test of his character. Atherton must know that there will be more searching questions about those events at Lord's which have seriously damaged his reputation.

Television viewers saw him apparently rubbing dirt into the ball and the former England fast bowler Jon Agnew publicly accused Atherton of attempting to alter the state of the ball.

England's captain has denied any attempt to gain an illegal advantage, but he is sure to be asked again just exactly what he was doing with the ball.

Atherton has not spoken since Sunday night and his performance at today's news sconference should reveal how he has been affected by the controversy.

Atherton is due to meet with Illingworth and the other selectors tomorrow evening to pick England's team for the second Test against South Africa at Headingley, starting on Thursday.