Cricket: Gilbert adamant about Adam

After Atherton, will it be Hussain, Stewart or Ramprakash? Think Brearley, says Surrey's former coach; Andrew Longmore assesses the record of the departing captain and advocates a change in style

THE departure was as typical as the arrival. All we heard back home was a prepared statement. Was he reading from the telephone directory or handing in his resignation? It was hard to tell. Brian Lara was far more animated. For a graduate in history, Michael Atherton has shown little feel for his subject. The monotone summarised the reign.

Atherton was neither the worst nor the best of captains. His percentage of wins - 13 in 52 Tests - was better than those of Tony Greig, Ian Botham, David Gower and Mike Gatting, worse than Bob Willis, Mike Denness and Graham Gooch. He is the longest-serving England captain. Yet his legacy can be measured only in negatives. His finest innings, 10 and a half hours worth in Johannesburg in the winter of 1995, was dedicated to a draw.

For all the spineless capitulation of the last day in Antigua, his side was harder to beat than the bedraggled lot Graham Gooch left behind two Ashes summers ago. And, on paper, the batting looks strong. Er, that's it. After four and a half years, what more do we know about the man? When he woke up back in the ranks for the first time since the beginning of August 1993, how did he feel? Relief? Anger? Delight? Despair? Even those close to him would only be guessing. No one has managed to keep himself so private while performing such a public duty. He enjoyed captaining his country, he said, but we had to take his word for it. A smile from Atherton was a collector's item, though friends talk of him as an amiable drinking companion off duty.

He never quite cast off the impression that captaincy was an unacceptable intrusion on his privacy, a duty rather than an honour. His dedication was not in doubt nor his popularity in the dressing room. The irony is that as his captaincy improved, his batting deteriorated. Few could have bettered his tactical astuteness on the third afternoon of the final Test at The Oval last summer. A masterclass in balancing attack and defence, in applying just the right torque to the nut. The rarity, as Atherton would wrily point out, was that two England bowlers, Phil Tufnell and Andy Caddick, combined to exert the sort of pressure which has been lacking for critical periods in the Caribbean. Tufnell's decision to bowl over the wicket into the rough on leg stump in the first of the two Trinidad Tests smacked of Atherton's defensive tendency. It lost England the match and seemed to affect Tufnell's delicate morale for the rest of the series.

Atherton leaves a more professional, coherent set-up than he inherited and a more consistent selectorial policy. It might be in such minutiae that Atherton's contribution to English cricket will be recorded. He had his favourites - John Crawley, for instance - and stuck with them rightly or wrongly, sometimes to the detriment of the team. That can be the only explanation for Mark Ramprakash's damaging omission for the first three Tests against the West Indies. With the backing of the English Cricket Board, the gap between player and administrator has been narrowed and a selectorial team of David Graveney, Gatting and Gooch more reflective of modern thinking.

His successors are now lining up in the shooting gallery: Alec Stewart, trusted lieutenant for so long, Nasser Hussain, the vice-captain and logical successor, or more radical choices like Mark Ramprakash, Adam Hollioake and Matthew Maynard, captain of the county champions. Hollioake has seemingly withdrawn from the line, presumably on the same grounds as last summer when the idea was mooted. He did not think then that it would be right for a rookie to captain such battle-hardened vets as Stewart or Atherton. But, after the dourness of the Atherton era, there is a strong case for a real change of style.

"I'd bite the bullet now and make Adam captain," David Gilbert, his former coach at Surrey, said. "What's the point in having a caretaker for 12 months. What England need is someone to bind them together so tightly they would be prepared to die for the team, someone who is a captain first and foremost. There's a precedent for that in Mike Brearley. What have you got to lose?"

It is a tribute to Hollioake's strength of character that the Australian believes proving himself as a Test cricketer would not necessarily hinder his captaincy. "People are queueing up to say he's not a Test player, but I reckon he would get a Test century within the time Ramprakash had, 22 Tests or whatever it was. He would fit in quite comfortable at number six and, believe me, on the field he always seems a couple of steps ahead of the game. He anticipates situations very well. Even if there was an obvious candidate, which I don't think there is, I would be rooting for him."

Hollioake led England to win the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah at the start of the winter; a similarly swashbuckling display in the five one- day internationals in the West Indies at the end would certainly strengthen his candidacy, whatever his thinking at present. The choice would be tough on Stewart, who has been passed over once and would let no one down in the role. Stewart could be penalised for his own all-round excellence. Captaining, keeping wicket and opening the batting would surely be too much even for a competitor of his intensity. The captaincy of Surrey did not seem to hold great attractions for him.

Whether Stewart is enrolled as caretaker or not - and, 10 days before his 35th birthday, the future looks more grey than orange - the obvious choice lies between Ramprakash and Hussain. Each has their patron on the selection committee: Gooch for Hussain, Gatting for Ramprakash, county captains more than aware of the growing pains and ultimate maturity of the one-time enfants terribles. Hussain's experience comes from captaining the A team, a job he performed with real flair. Ramprakash has just half a season at Middlesex behind him and has only recently freed himself from the Test cocoon. Hussain would be Atherton's preference, for what it's worth. It was he who acted as confidant when Atherton first proposed resignation after the Trent Bridge Test last summer.

It has taken four and a half years for the job of captaining an average side burdened with above average expectations to wear him down, which is a tribute to Atherton's toughness. His successor will not find the task magically transformed, not until an Ambrose or a Warne emerges from the system anyway, and back-to-back series with South Africa and Australia allow little time for acclimatisation. Atherton can join the growing band of ex-captains on the sidelines. It is not his problem anymore. If only there had been a few more V for victories. And a few more smiles.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution