Fresh test for Atherton as 'buffoon' threatens to sue

As a bridge-building exercise it has swiftly become clear that England's winter tour of Pakistan would test the expertise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. More evidence emerged here yesterday that the entire excursion could yet be less magnificent Severn, more the shaky Millennium span over the Thames.

As a bridge-building exercise it has swiftly become clear that England's winter tour of Pakistan would test the expertise of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. More evidence emerged here yesterday that the entire excursion could yet be less magnificent Severn, more the shaky Millennium span over the Thames.

Asghar Ali demanded a written apology from the England opening batsman and former captain, Michael Atherton, for an incident in the World Cup four years ago. Asghar, a sports journalist, asked a series of questions in broken English during a press conference after England had been beaten by South Africa in Rawalpindi. Atherton became testy and said: "Can someone get this buffoon out of here?" Ali said that if he does not receive his apology in 10 days he will sue.

It ruffled feathers then but Atherton cannot have known the enduring effects. Asghar said yesterday it had ruined his life and tainted his reputation. "My personal life, my professional life and my financial life have been affected." His fiancée at the time called off the wedding because "she did not want to be the wife of a buffoon".

England's management were nonplussed by this unlikely development and last night were seeking advice about how to respond, if at all. Presumably, they were attempting to contact Atherton, who is featuring only in the Test section of the tour, which starts in November, and will not join the party until next week.

At least it made a change. It was not, on this occasion, Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, opining on how the Pakistanis should mete out punishment to players who may or may not be guilty of involvement in match-rigging, an intervention which could easily have unfortunate repercussions for his players this winter.

His lordship's opposite number, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, said yesterday: "It is a highly ill-timed statement coming from a responsible official. If we don't step into others' jurisdiction, we don't want others to enter into ours."

Still pervading the whole trip, despite the captain Nasser Hussain's determined attempts to play it down ("I don't know what happened, I was still at school"), are the events from 13 years ago when the England captain of that time, Mike Gatting, became embroiled in a finger-wagging argument with the umpire Shakoor Rana.

Their dispute led to a breakdown in cricketing relations. The World Cup apart, when it was unavoidable, no England senior side has toured here since. There remains plenty of scope for buffoonery.

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