This is splendid news for he is the right man for the job. Apart from picking a team, which he and the selectors did last night, Atherton is desperately short of batting practice, a function of Lancashire's fixture list rather than his recent fugitive status. This should be resolved this afternoon when he captains the Quidnuncs (a team of old Cambridge Blues) against John Paul Getty's XI.
Country-house cricket may not be the best way to prepare for the most crucial Test match of the summer, but a leisurely knock may be just what the doctor ordered even if it is a long way from the infamous Headingley hordes.
On Thursday the England captain will find out just how charitable the crowd are towards those from the other side of the Pennines. A vocal Yorkshire crowd can be an enlivening experience, and Steve Oldham, the Yorkshire coach, expects everything to be much as normal. 'There might be the usual Leeds United lot that you wouldn't take home to tea, giving him a bit of stick,' he said, 'but I think most of them will get behind him and the team.'
Finding themselves 1-0 down in a three-Test series to a team as devoted to not losing as South Africa, should warrant radical changes, particularly after the abject performance at Lord's. Unfortunately, as Ray Illingworth pointed out, when the England players go back to their counties, they are the ones who take the most wickets and score the most runs.
However, county cricket is not always the appropriate yardstick for Test matches, where the pressurised occasion is a stern examination of character. Short of inventing some sort of mettle detector, Atherton and Illingworth must somehow divine those who will not wilt; the pitch at Headingley suits attritional cricket and none play it better than South Africa.
With that in mind, Illingworth will have to take a deep breath and drop Craig White on his home ground. By bringing in Graham Thorpe, who has been disgracefully neglected, he would be replacing a Yorkshireman with a southerner - always a dangerous act at Headingley. However, once the bowling moved up a couple of notches, the all-rounder looked out of sorts with the bat.
The only other change to the batting should involve the order, with Gooch resuming at the head of it, where he is at his most imperious, and Stewart coming in first wicket down, a much more convenient place to exhibit his natural aggression.
Who handles the ball - and the bowling - at Headingley is even more pertinent after Lord's and not solely because of the dirt dug up by the captain. Injuries aside - and Gough, Fraser and DeFreitas are all expected to be fit - both Tim Munton, of Warwickshire, and Joey Benjamin, of Surrey, should be drafted into the squad, though Benjamin may find Headingley's bounce too low to suit his round-arm style.
This would mean hard luck on the off-spinner Shaun Udal whose 'crime' was probably down to nothing more than the odd long-hop in the nets. Although Andy Caddick and Dominic Cork must have been in the frame, neither has shown enough consistent fitness to be risked in a pivotal Test.
Possible 13: Atherton, Gooch, Stewart, Hick, Thorpe, Crawley, Rhodes, DeFreitas, Gough, Fraser, Salisbury, Munton, Benjamin.Reuse content