Cricket: Captain shows wounds from slings and arrows

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The Independent Online
MIKE ATHERTON'S press conference, like his innings, faltered just when it looked like being a flawless performance. The England captain, poised but deadpan, said all the right things about the Headingley crowd, his team and his innings but could not help revealing the wounds suffered by the last fortnight's controversy.

Interviewed initially by the BBC's Jonathan Agnew - a difficult role for one of his most prominent critics over the Lord's ball- tampering furore - Atherton thanked 'the Yorkshire public' and looked cautiously forward to taking control of the Test.

But, wearing his runs like a cloak of self-justification, he could not help adding a jibe at his tormentors in the media. 'I was pleased to get runs,' he said. 'It is better than getting nought, though getting out for 99 twice in Tests is not ideal. A hundred would have been the best answer to the gutter press.'

Since both those establishment pillars, the BBC and the Times, had been among those criticising Atherton, the more traditional members of the 'gutter press' were understandably miffed at this, though they too had generally been in favour of Atherton resigning.

Agnew avoided rising to the bait - as did the written press when the comment was later repeated - but it underlined how much Atherton has taken the criticism of him to heart. It was an understandable reaction considering his recent ordeal, but ill-advised nevertheless. For the crowd, who, if they doubted him did not once show it, he had only words of praise.

'I was delighted with them - I would like to say a big thank-you to the Yorkshire public, they got behind me and the team. You always wonder what the reception is going to be here. Headingley crowds are notorious but they gave me a wonderful reception in and out.'

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