Cricket: The Atherton legacy: Four rival Test captains pass judgement

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Mohammed Azharuddin

India

The captain of India, now in his second spell in charge, led his side to a 1-0 defeat against Atherton's England two years ago.

YOU are not a bad captain if you have led a side for 52 Tests and Atherton was a good one. It's very difficult in England where the set-up is completely different but he coped. Captains get the blame, it's part of the job, I suppose. But if England had won the series against West Indies - and they could have done from what I've seen and heard - his poor batting form would have been forgotten. Instead, he would have been the leader who took them to victory. Good players have poor runs of form and he would certainly have come back with runs. He still will. Captains can only do so much for their side but the responsibility he must have felt was enormous. For so long, if he failed his team failed and I do think he was frequently let down by his players. They were better for having him. He was a good captain who never got as much credit as he deserved. I think, if he feels it's right, he's done the right thing in stepping down but it's possible that he might return one day if they felt that they needed him. A rest from the job can refresh you.

Hansie Cronje

South Africa

The captain of South Africa has played in two series against England. The first, when he had yet to assume the helm, was drawn and his side won the second.

HIS form appears to have suffered recently but at least some of that can be put down to the fact that he was the captain and an opening batsman. His wicket was still prized above all others. We felt that and we know how hard he was to get out. Being captain of your country is an unparalleled honour and I love it but there is no doubt that being captain of England is constantly tough. Athers was always being scrutinised, always under the media microscope. But he made the team into a better unit and they became hard to beat. I thought they were a better side when they toured here than the one we met in England two years earlier. They were hard to break down for most of the tour here and although we won 1-0 it might have gone the other way. Athers was a tough adversary and to do that job for four years takes toughness. I don't know him that well but on the couple of occasions I asked him for a drink after a game he was very responsive. He struck me as being a thoroughly amusing and friendly bloke and he did a good job.

Mark Taylor

Australia

The captain of Australia led his side to two Ashes victories and was in the team for the three previous ones.

THERE is no doubt that he made England a much tougher side. There was no comparison between the England that we beat in 1989 and to a slightly lesser extent 1991 and 1993 and the one that we came across in 1995 and 1997. They were simply a much less soft proposition and the captain has to take the credit for that. He hasn't had players like McGrath, Warne and Steve Waugh either. From experience I can tell you that if you are captain and opening batsman the opposition target you. It's the modern way. Atherton withstood it brilliantly but I am not altogether surprised he has stood down. Losing affects you and it's affected me recently although we hadn't lost a series since 1994. I shall take stock back home this winter. But as captain you often get reward out of the little things like setting a deliberate field for a batsmen and getting his wicket. That makes it worthwhile. The nature of modern touring means that you don't have much chance to socialise with the opposition but we got on, especially latterly. After the Oval Test last year he came into our dressing room and we drank and chatted till ten that night.

Wasim Akram

Pakistan

The captain of Pakistan until three months ago is also Atherton's colleague at Lancashire. He led Pakistan to victory over England in 1997.

ATHERS did very well, although people were always finding fault with him. He was a sound tactician and he knows his cricket. England were much the better for having him as long as they did, and I'm surprised he's gone now. All right, he has had a bad series but that doesn't make him any less a batsman. He would have come again and I would have thought that the team still needed him. Had he asked me I would certainly have advised him to stay on. But I can understand some of the difficulties of being captain, having experienced them myself. It's not a job you're ever away from. I shall enjoy my cricket far more for Pakistan now and I'm sure that same will go for Athers and England. It's still a pity because despite what might have been said in some places he's a good leader, very relaxed and unshakeable. If he had a fault it was that he was a bit too quiet. England were certainly no pushovers when we won 2-0 there but they were worried far too much about what ball was picked. The fact was we didn't care what ball we used. They'll miss him.

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