Cricket: Dead match may prove life-line for Atherton

By Derek Pringle in Port of Spain

THE SERIES may have been decided, but England's frustrations at touring the Caribbean are showing no signs of letting up. Travelling from St Vincent to Trinidad for the final one-day match today, the team, scheduled originally for a morning flight, finally arrived in the team hotel in Port of Spain at midnight.

"It's very frustrating just hanging around," David Lloyd, the England coach, said yesterday. "Although we were never going to practice today, the whole thing was very unsatisfactory. Whatever the reasons, we were the last to leave St Vincent by a long way.''

Better late than never is not an epithet that can readily be applied to England's cricket here which, after promising much, has never really arrived. Today's match, apart from the spectators being keen to see the "biff bang pow" of one-day batsmanship, is about as pointless as the new Super Cup that the top eight English counties will be competing for in 1999.

They may not see much pyrotechnics either. The pitch at the Queen's Park Oval is not overly conducive to belting the ball on the up, and there are strong rumours that Michael Atherton could be making his first appearance since quitting as captain two weeks ago. The West Indies, too, are likely to experiment, and they may play all three of their recently selected all-rounders, Neil McGarrell, Carl Tuckett and Laurie Williams.

Not being involved has gnawed away at Atherton, who, according to England coach David Lloyd, will be stimulated now he is "back in the ranks''. Atherton's views on the matter are still private, though he did prepare for what might be his final innings on tour - should he make the final 11 - by fishing for bonefish in Tobago.

"I'm delighted he's cleared off for the day," Lloyd said. "No longer being captain of England will be a weight off his shoulders.''

Asked if Atherton would have to get runs for Lancashire to get picked for England next summer, Lloyd replied: "Michael's recognised that he's not scored the volume of runs that he's used to. Mind you, he's not the only one who needs to get runs. But he's young enough and good enough to get back to top form.

"Like every batsman in the frame to play for England he'll know it's not a cushy number. The fight for places is competitive, which it should be. We don't want talented young players to think it's a closed shop.''

Atherton, on the other hand, having presided over the debacle in the last World Cup, has a great desire to play in the next one. A good innings here will remind those with short memories that he averages 77 against the West Indies in one-day matches. For one man at least, today's dead game may provide more than a way of simply killing time before the flight home.