Cricket: Atherton's new attitude

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The Independent Online
England's performance in the field after they had put Australia into bat was a great indication of the thinking and the planning which has been going on behind the scenes to make this a new and more focused England side.

With nobody was this more apparent than the captain. For some time now Mike Atherton has been under constant scrutiny, if not attack, and one felt that something soon had to give.

He himself has been scornful about suggestions that the captain's body language has been negative and damaging to England's chances. He does not feel that it matters and his natural cussedness, perhaps, has made him unwilling to change.

But on the evidence of the first part of this opening encounter with Australia, someone has at last got through to him.

Gone was that old shuffling walk, head down and shoulders hunched. He strode out and positioned himself at mid-off - so often he tucks himself anonymously away in the slips or the gully and lets the game take its course.

Now, it was all so different. Atherton frequently spoke to his bowlers and he listened to the advice of the wicketkeeper Alec Stewart. There was about him an air of decisive authority one has not seen before.

He seemed to be enjoying himself and in spite of all his protestations to the contrary, it is not often that one has been able to write that about him. He seemed to inspire his colleagues, too, for they laid on as good an England fielding display as we have seen for a long time.

No one was nippier and more athletic than Atherton himself. He held a brilliant catch at short extra cover when Michael Slater unleashed a powerful off-drive against Mark Ealham.

It may be that one of the main reasons for the captain's metamorphosis is that he now has confidence in those who are running English cricket. The three selectors - David Graveney, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting -are almost his contemporaries and Atherton may feel it much easier to take their advice than he did when the much older Ray Illingworth was in charge.

Of course, one limited over international when England were bowling in helpful conditions, may not be conclusive evidence that Atherton has had a decisive change of mind, but the signs were most encouraging.

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