Cricket: Atherton's mettle

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The Independent Online
A GREAT many things stood out on England's best day of the series, and the most closely contested and absorbing. Why on earth couldn't they all have been the same?

The main difference between the first 15 days and the 27th day was that England have a new captain. Graham Gooch could not inspire and he went, Mike Atherton took his place and has already shown his mettle.

The cynics will say the situation was so desperate it could only get better and that the Australians were not too bothered. Yet it may well be that Atherton's inspiration prompted Devon Malcolm's best day in Test cricket which in turn produced the fastest bowling of the series. It was Atherton who posted a third man at the start which turned those early edges and deflections so crucially from fours into singles.

Atherton talks frequently to his bowlers and his senior players, and on this evidence is good at assimilating advice - he clearly knows what he wants. He persuaded Gooch into short leg's crash helmet, maybe for the first time, saw him hold on to two catches and was more than happy to listen when Gooch ran across to talk to him.

We may never know what Atherton said to his players and how he handles the behind-the-scenes operations but in the field at The Oval, Atherton was the captain, alert and always prompting and searching.

In his penultimate Test innings in England, Allan Border, the Australian captain, left us with something to remember him by as he used his footwork, judgement and determination to try to get after the accurate off-spin of Peter Such.