Cricket: Test of Atherton's future status

HISTORY may have been his academic subject at Cambridge University, but Michael Atherton is not one to dwell on the past. If he was, he might as well don his one-day gear now, for every indication is that this final match of the series at the Recreation Ground here will be a draw, and that England will lose this series 2-1.

Four years ago, there was a very good reason for that: Brian Lara. In an astonishing feat of batsmanship, Lara broke one of the longest-standing records when he broke Sir Garfield Sobers' record of 365 runs for the highest Test match score.

When one man bats for nigh on three days and makes 375 runs, there is not much time left for anyone else. Indeed, only 24 overs of the West Indies' second innings were possible after England's sole visit to the middle ended on 593, exactly the same first innings total as their opponents.

But things change, not least the people involved and, if three of England's bowlers, Angus Fraser, Andy Caddick and Phil Tufnell, have bittersweet memories of their role in history, they have not allowed Lara to dominate to the same extent on this tour as he did four years ago.

The ground has changed too, virtually beyond recognition, and little remains of the quaint ramshackle stands that witnessed the inaugural Test match here, played in 1981. For those who like to worship at shrines, this venue has also changed radically from the one where Lara played his magnum opus in 1994.

The ground was derided as a potential Test match venue only six weeks ago. Now, considering the place was a rubble-strewn construction site when England first arrived here in January, the transformation has been amazing.

Ambitious projects need luck, and apparently unseasonal rain has helped the Bermuda grass, specially imported from Miami for the outfield, to grow into a lush carpet in just over two weeks. Unless it is shorn, batsmen may find the boundary difficult to reach with ground strokes.

By contrast, the pitch is hard, bare, and sand coloured. But while it looks fairly typical of the surfaces produced here over the years, its newness may still hold the odd surprise, though a one-day game here 10 days ago apparently passed without incident. If the pitch does hold true to type, it will start slow, quicken slightly and perhaps offer some spin as the game goes on.

The key in Antigua is to bat and gain a total of around 400, or more if possible. In fact, for once, England's batsmen can be certain that they will not have to put their pads on should Lara win the toss.

The home side, more cautious than they used to be, have made two changes, recalling both Junior Murray and Franklyn Rose to their squad. Rose may not play, should the selectors prefer the leg-spin of Dinanath Ramnarine, but Murray will certainly strengthen the batting if not the keeping.

But if the West Indies will happily settle for a draw - a tactic that does not suit their style of play and one that may play into their opponents' hands - England need to win.

It may not be the mission that Michael Atherton wanted to accomplish when he agreed to continue as England's captain, but a drawn series against the West Indies in the Caribbean is still an an achievement worthy of high praise.

Despite being cruelly denied their chance of levelling the series in Barbados by the weather, the England captain was adamant that he would not be making any changes - unless some change in conditions this morning brought a sudden change of heart.

"Every Test is a Test to win," Atherton said before net practice yesterday, "so I don't see the point of changing the side just because we need to win this one. We've looked like winning most of the matches and we could quite easily have been 2-1 up ourselves, or at least 2-2." Instead, however, his side are 2-1 down - and, should England manage to win here to level the series, it may not be enough to keep their captain in charge, once he returns to England early in April.

Over his four and a half year tenure Atherton could not have given more to the job, except perhaps a smile. But that is his way, and even a position as public as that of the England captaincy should not force you to be unnatural.

Unwilling to dwell on the past, Atherton refused to look forward either, and those attempting to get the England captain to speculate over his future were once more left with that familiar image of a great survivor still clinging to power with a single bullet left in his gun. The next five days will decide whether it is has been used against his opponents or kept back for himself.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific