England look beyond the comforts of home

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There is no doubt about it. England prefer home comforts under Mike Atherton's captaincy. Three home series under his leadership have left England undefeated on their turf. But Atherton is ready to admit that something has to be done when his men are abroad, as 3-1 drubbings in the Caribbean and Australia have illustrated in the last two winters.

"We've been competitive at home," said Atherton after the curtain came down on a long, hard summer of Tests. "It's when we have been on tour that we have problems. We don't travel well." To that end, Atherton and his chairman-cum-manager, Ray Illingworth, have worked on putting together the sort of side that can turn the tide.

"I think we have the nucleus of a good side," Illingworth said. "We have encouraged people to be positive. You have to enjoy your cricket and not just be hard and serious. We have a laugh. A bit of fun. The atmosphere in the dressing room has been great. They have all mucked in."

The affable managerial all-rounder, Illingworth illustrated how good things are by denying rumours of a rift between himself and Atherton and saying: "We are thinking of getting the Bowie knife out and becoming blood brothers." And as for combining the roles of chairman of selectors with team manager, the jocular Illingworth added: "It means Mike only has to deal with one old fart instead of two."

Meanwhile, reports of Atherton's exhaustion and intention therefore to take the rest of the season off were clearly premature. He will be turning out for Lancashire today against Surrey at The Oval, and also faces the prospect of some long selectorial meetings with Illingworth to decide on the composition of the tour party to South Africa and the England A squad, as well as looking ahead to the World Cup early next year.

The West Indies captain, Richie Richardson, knows how Atherton feels. He made a heartfelt plea for fewer demanding county matches towards the end of similar lengthy tours by his countrymen in the future. "The guys are really drained," he said. Their pockets have also been drained to the tune of some pounds 25,000, due to an impressive collection of over-rate fines accumulated throughout the six-Test rubber.

England were also clobbered for 20 per cent of their match fee in the last Test - about pounds 500 per man - but transgressions by the West Indies in each of the first five Tests meant that by the time they reached The Oval, the total owed to the authorities by the tourists was 105 per cent. In other words, they played the final Test for nothing. At least they got a draw. But Richardson is determined not to be forced into a change of approach by such Draconian measures. "It would be wrong to play a spinner just to get in your daily quota of overs. The game is about getting a result and maintaining standards. But we can't afford fines like these," he said.