Cricket: Iron Mike makes a late surge up the captains' table

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BY ANY standards Michael Atherton's unbeaten 268 at Blackpool last week was a captain's innings. Of course, he was not the captain - that was John Crawley. But Atherton's long and, by most accounts, imperious occupation of the crease, his career best, provoked some thinking on the highest scores of men to have captained England.

Atherton's monumental endeavours moved him some 20 places up that particular meaningless, though fascinating, list. Only 14 of the 71 men who have led England in a Test match have now made more in an innings, whether before or after their period of office.

The best by any England skipper is the 424 of Archie MacLaren in 1895 for Lancashire (so Atherton has a way to go) before he became national skipper. Then largest score in a Test match is the 364 by Len Hutton in 1938, though that was 14 years before he became captain. And the best by one of the 71 while actually being captain of England in a Test is Graham Gooch's 333 against India in 1990. Peter May made 285 not out when he was captain.

What was also outstanding about Atherton's effort was that it came after he had been captain. Most of those who led the country reached their career- best score before assuming office. Of course, Atherton had other motivations.

He was announcing his intentions to regain his Test place and, while it did not work automatically, he will clearly not go quietly. In terms of ex-captains reminding the selectors of their existence it was reminiscent of Ted Dexter in 1968. Dexter had hardly played for three years when he decided to make a relaxed comeback for Sussex. He made a resplendent 203 against Kent and was swiftly in the side against Australia. Class, as the selectors will take a little more time to recognise in Atherton's case, always tells.

NO PLACE in England has firmer cricket links than Milton Keynes. As discussed in this space last year there is a whole gridsquare in the city which consists entirely of streets named after cricketers - from Grace to Graveney.

But the lovely city ground of Campbell Park, which was the subject of some deliberations here only last week and where they have aspirations to stage one-day internationals, has no such connections. It may be old-fashioned, it may have been designed as a rural arena amid an urban sprawl but it was not named with a cricketer in mind.

Campbell was Lord Campbell, Jock of that ilk, a rich socialist ("New Labour decades before it was thought of," said someone in Milton Keynes last week) who became first and much respected chairman of the city's Development Corporation. But cricket was not his bag. He was a member and devotee of Wimbledon and played table tennis.

ON THE subject of grounds, Campbell Park may just lose out for sheer attraction to the Shenley Cricket Centre. This splendid ground, not far off the M25 in Hertfordshire, is the MCC's country headquarters - not as developed as their urban one at Lord's but a similar picture just the same.

The main ground is called the Denis Compton Ground. He must be the only cricketer in the world - and can there be any more deserving - to have a stand at Lord's and a whole ground named after him. Campbell Park cannot quite compete with that.

ONE COUNTY side are performing this season without a single Test player to their name. They have some with ambitions in that direction, an England A tourist, a one-day international, an acquisitive but uncapped overseas player, but Sussex are completely bereft of Test experience.

Jason Lewry is the A tourist, Chris Adams the one-day international, and Mike Di Venuto the overseas star who cannot make an Australian team. Sussex had two players with Test experience last season, Michael Bevan, who played in the World Cup, and Paul Jarvis, who was released.

Sussex are performing adequately but their singular shortage prompted the thought of whether any county has won the Championship without a Test player. Probably not but efforts to unearth one will continue.

BOOK MARK

"It is wonderful to be trusted, even more wonderful to be led. Someone like Arjuna [Ranatunga] can carry a team, a cricket board, the establishment and the media on his back with a mixture of strength and adroit leverage, while maintaining his form. But I have never found that easy without compromising my game. Leadership is wonderfully fulfilling but captaincy is somehow confining for me." Aravinda De Silva, in his autobiography, Aravinda, talking himself out of succeeding Ranatunga as Sri Lanka captain and hinting at what lies in store for Sanath Jayasuriya.

DON'T STOP THE CARNIVAL

The boy from Broxburn with the accent of South-east England who pitched up in Yorkshire illuminated the World Cup. Gavin Hamilton's performances for Scotland drew continuing adulation from his captain, George Salmond. Hamilton has kept his form as he exhibited in an assured 75 not out for the three wicket-win over Warwickshire on Friday. "Mature beyond his years", enthused David Byas, a captain who does not deliver praise lightly.

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