Cricket: Illingworth attempts to limit the damage

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The Independent Online
FOR the second day running, Ray Illingworth, the chairman of the England selectors, tried to close the door on the ball-tampering affair.

'I agree with what Peter Burge has said - it's fair comment,' he said yesterday. 'This now completely closes the matter. Mike (Atherton) has been adequately punished and I'm sure he will learn from what's happened.

'Mike is only a young man, I think people sometimes forget that. I hope he goes on to be a very successful England captain.'

Alan Smith, the chief executive of the TCCB, was more cautious when he was asked if Atherton could remain with dignity in his post and lead an Ashes campaign to Australia during the winter. 'It hasn't helped his cause,' he said. 'In my opinion, yes, he can, but that is a matter for Ray and his fellow selectors to think through and talk through.

'The condition of the ball wasn't altered. If it had been I'm sure Mike would have been for the high jump - and quite rightly so.'

BBC Television screened more slow-motion pictures of the incidents last night, which brought this reaction from Jon Agnew, the former England fast bowler who is now BBC cricket correspondent: 'In my opinion he was attempting to alter the state of the ball.'

However, Illingworth's sentiments were echoed by Atherton's colleagues on and off the field at Lancashire. The county chairman, and former England tour manager, Bob Bennett, said: 'His integrity is not in doubt and never has been as far as I'm concerned. I feel sure the way is clear for him to carry on as England captain for a long time.'

'I think the public will support Michael,' Bennett said. 'There is a lot of pressure on a young man leading his country and I'm sure most people realise that. He put his cards on the table, explained everything and you've got to admire someone who does that.'

Neil Fairbrother, one of Atherton's senior colleagues at Lancashire, said: 'There's no way Mike was trying to tamper with the ball. He's always been dead against that sort of thing. It's something he would not contemplate. Now he has fully explained his actions there should be no more talk of ball-tampering. He's not a cheat, never has been and never will be.'