Cricket: History suggests the end of Atherton's era

No cricket contest has more influence on the future of England captains than the Ashes and there is every reason to suspect that this series will take its place in history as marking the end of another term of office.

When England lost at home to Australia in 1972, it was the cue for Mike Denness to fall on his sword. Likewise in 1989 when David Gower presided over a 0-4 scoreline. And again in 1993, when a 4-1 victory for the Australians brought about the end of Graham Gooch.

If Michael Atherton is to break with this tradition and lead England in the West Indies this winter despite yet another decisive defeat, it will be only because of the lack of a successor who is genuinely ready to step up. Even then, it may not be enough to persuade him to stay on.

In the aftermath of defeat at Trent Bridge, he played a straight bat to questions over his future. Having denied on Saturday that he offered to resign following the Headingley Test, he added few words on the subject yesterday.

Should he go, Nasser Hussain would be the obvious candidate, but there are still doubts over the reliability of the Essex batsman's form. There is a growing clamour for Adam Hollioake, even after just one Test as an England player, but this is driven more by romance than logic.

Atherton would look a better captain had he been blessed with the resources that will enable Mark Taylor to be recalled among Australia's most successful leaders. Had Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne been born English, this summer might have unfolded in much different light.

"It is some consolation to have lost to a very good side but we had chances at Old Trafford and Headingley and did not take them," he said. "The key difference was that Australia always had a couple of match-winning players that maybe we didn't have. Inevitably the focus will be on England's shortcomings but Australia played very well and should be congratulated."

Curiously, Taylor may be also be nearing the end of his tenure, even though, under his guidance, Australia have become undisputed world champions and extended their dominance of the Ashes to five consecutive series wins. The issue in his case is not one of leadership but form. Like his counterpart, however, he would not be drawn on his own plans. "I have a few thoughts but I'm not going to make them known at this stage," he said.

In victory Taylor was typically generous. "I haven't said this before but we are the best side in the world and England have put us under pressure in this series. To have come back after losing the first Test feels very special."

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