Cricket: Captain in the Border mould

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The Independent Online
WATCHING Mike Atherton and Graham Gooch bat together in the first Test took one back to more than a year ago. They had then both returned from England's hugely unsuccessful tour of India and Sri Lanka in which all four Tests were lost.

Gooch had not gone to Sri Lanka and Alec Stewart had captained the side there, and in Madras, too, after Gooch had eaten those infamous prawns. Atherton had played without much luck in the last two Test matches.

One could have been forgiven for thinking that Gooch and Stewart, captain and vice-captain, were in effect saying that there was no place for Atherton. Twelve months is a long time though, and now of course Atherton is as firmly established as England's captain as ever Gooch was.

He has grown in authority in a remarkable manner and not least in his batting. At Trent Bridge, in partnership with Gooch, he more than held his own - until he became marooned in the nineties - although he may not be such a flamboyant strokemaker.

But Atherton has a considerable presence at the crease and he gives off an aura of authority. The bad balls are dispatched for four, if not in quite the uncompromising fashion of Gooch, and there is an impressive overall security about his batting now.

A year ago, for entertainment value, one would always have been hoping for Atherton to push for the singles which would have given Gooch the strike. On this second day, there was nothing more entertaining than the over in which Atherton cut and twice pulled Matthew Hart for three fours in succession and later there were some splendid cover drives.

In 1984, Allan Border inherited the captaincy of Australia from Kim Hughes and a poor side with it. For four or five years it was hard going but gradually he helped Australia develop once again into a formidable side. I don't think it is too far-fetched to suggest that Atherton, who is only 26, might do something similar for England.