Trouble for Atherton

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MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

Michael Atherton has already made a couple of high-profile visits to the International Cricket Council headmaster's study, and the England cricket captain may shortly find himself back on the disciplinary carpet for comments he made about the Edgbaston pitch after last week's third Test debacle.

Following last summer's two meetings with the International Cricket Council referee, the Australian Peter Burge, firstly over the dirt in the pocket business, and secondly for Burge's high-handed interpretation of dissent, Atherton now faces a ticking-off from this summer's appointee from New Zealand, John Reid.

Having seen their own manager, Andy Roberts, reprimanded for criticisms of the Lord's pitch during the second Test match, the West Indies complained - with some justification - that Reid had not latched on with similar gusto to Atherton's views on the Egbaston surface.

He described it firstly as "diabolical" and then told a television interviewer that home groundsmen should prepare pitches to suit their own team. "Obviously when you are playing at home you want ground advantage to count," he said, "and you might consider asking groundsmen to load conditions in your favour."

This appears to contravene the ICC stance on standardisation of pitches, and may also be considered in breach of the gagging clause (under which Roberts was arraigned) citing "no public pronouncements to the detriment of the game".

Reid is currently on holiday, but will be asked by the ICC to review Atherton's comments when he returns. It is not likely to result in any further raids on the captain's wallet (Raymond Illingworth and Burge dipped in for a combined pounds 3,500 last summer) but it would probably be a good idea for him to stuff a Wisden down the back of his trousers when he reports to Reid's office.

The ICC also announced yesterday that there is to be an umpires' meeting next month to discuss the interpretation of Law 42 (Unfair Play) with specific reference to the bowling of bouncers. The current legislation allowing two per over per batsman has obscured the catch-all clause on "intimidation" in Law 42, and there was more than one occasion at Edgbaston when the fact that the West Indian bowlers remained within their bouncer quota appeared to make the umpires forget their wider powers concerning the physical risks to the batsmen.

A move by England to increase the number of overs in a Test match day from 90 to 96 was thrown out, although there was a minor concession in increased fines (from five to 10 per cent of the match fee) once the shortfall in overs climbed to more than five in a day. During the last Test, the West Indies' over-rate effectively deprived spectators of 21 overs on the first two days, although if they had not, there would not have been any play at all on the Saturday.

The number of overs to be bowled before a new ball becomes available is to be standardised to 80, as will all one-day internationals to 50 overs per side. Spectators at all Test matches will now receive television adjudications on stumpings and run-outs via a green and red light display. England had hitherto claimed that their own walkie-talkie system was more in keeping with tradition, but they have now been compelled to comply with the showbiz method employed in other countries.

There was, as expected, no decision taken on allegations of Pakistani players offering bribes for opponents to throw matches, the ICC declaring it sub judice until the Pakistani Board completes its own judicial process. This, however, is forecast to make the O J Simpson trial look like a weekend break.

West Indies flop, page 25

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