Cricket: Crisis could be the making of England's leader

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IN COMING through what will surely turn out to be the biggest crisis of his career, Michael Atherton appeared throughout the five days at Headingley to be a more smiling, communicative and relaxed captain of England than he was before.

A sudden crisis affects people in different ways. Some turn in on themselves and become more remote from their fellows, while others may find that this is the moment when they understand and appreciate loyalty and friendship in the fullest sense for the first time.

I would not be surprised if this is what has happened to Atherton. Before now, he has seemed a communicative captain when the need arose, but never an especially forthcoming one. There was an austerity in his bearing and body language which had disappeared at Headingley.

He was always thoughtful and seriously so, with a frown never much more than half a wrinkle away. In this Test, whether fielding or sitting on the balcolny or even batting, he was often smiling and gave the impression of being more at ease with himself in the job.

His new approach may have been in part his response to his fellow players' trust and in part, paradoxical though it may seem in the circumstances, to being made by their support to feel more secure in his job.

This is not to try to suggest that the result of all the ball dusting at Lords will be to turn a sound but cautious captain overnight into one whose every tactical decision will change the course of a match.

Taken in the context of the result at Lord's, though, this was a good Test match for England and their captain, who has shown that he possesses impressive character. He will be a more formidable cricketer and captain because of the way he has come through.

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