Cricket: Batting is Atherton's priority: More pressure awaits England captain at awkward selection meeting

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The Independent Online
RAY ILLINGWORTH lent his support to Michael Atherton one more time yesterday, this time in a telephone conversation while the beleaguered captain takes a holiday to consider the effect the ball-tampering controversy has had on his position.

'He seemed fine,' Illingworth, who confirmed that Atherton would be joining the selectors on Saturday to pick the side for the second Test, said. 'I've said all I need to about his position. We'll all be meeting on Saturday.'

Assuming Atherton resists the pressure to resign, the Test, which starts at Headingley next Thursday, will present the 26-year-old captain with an awkward confrontation. 'Mike will have to face up to the public and press sooner or later, and obviously he's well aware of that,' Illingworth said. 'He also needs to get in some batting practice between now and the Test because Lancashire have got no cricket. I'm keen for him to sort that out.'

Lord's officials also confirmed yesterday that no further statements on the Atherton affair are to be made from headquarters. The Test and County Cricket Board hierarchy, and most importantly Illingworth, have made up their minds to stick solidly behind Atherton.

Having protested his innocence, Atherton is believed to be determined to carry on, but may well remain out of sight until England gather in Leeds on Tuesday lunchtime for the Test.

The affair has predictably spread around the world, Salim Malik, who is captaining Pakistan on their tour to Sri Lanka, joining the critical lobby. He thought the issue was making English cricket a laughing stock.

'Who is cheating - we or they? Who has got caught?' he said. After complaining that whenever Pakistan won Tests and whenever Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis took wickets the team were branded as cheats, he said the Atherton incident would at least take some pressure off his bowlers.

'Our bowlers have never cheated and never will. I like to see the reaction of English tabloids to what their captain has done. They've always covered up incidents involving English players,' he added.

Clive Rice, the former South African, also said: 'I thought he was guilty just from watching it on TV. How he gets away with it I'm not too sure. I think his only way out is to actually resign.'

England's three front-line seamers from the Lord's Test will all miss the round of Championship matches starting today. Yorkshire's Darren Gough is suffering from broken blood vessels in his right arm after being hit by Allan Donald while batting. Angus Fraser, of Middlesex, fractured the little finger of his left hand in the same way, while Phillip DeFreitas is out of Derbyshire's game against the leaders, Warwickshire, with a hamstring injury.

Briers' reward,

Scoreboard, page 38

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