The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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ĎYou canít choose your fate, your fate chooses youí

Leeds: In over 125 years of Test cricket, only seven captains have led in 50 or more matches. Englandís Michael Atherton, of course, is one such. Atherton, who is rather busy with Media commitments, spoke to The Telegraph Friday (exclusively on captaincy) before the start of Day II in the third Test.

Following are excerpts

On who, in his opinion, makes a good captain

Look, some essentials must first be clear: A captain has to be worth his place in the team. Then, he has to be a good communicator. If the captain isnít, how will he be able to motivate' Besides always backing his own decisions, he must be fair with his players. A large dose of respect helps.

On the man-management component

Of course, thatís very important. A captain must realise he is dealing with individuals and, so, all 11 or 14 or 16 are bound to react differently. Therefore, he must himself be ready to adjust ó from individual to individual. There will be problems if a captain isnít willing to Ďacceptí different characters in his team. Captaincy encapsulates many things and one should be looking to get it right in as many areas as possible.

On leading from the front

Itís going to be very difficult if a captain isnít worthy of a place in the XI... Itís going to be very difficult if he isnít setting an example.

On whether he learnt from being Graham Goochís deputy

I donít think I was his vice-captain for too long... In fact, though I was 25 when I got the captaincy, I hadnít even been captain full-time at Lancashire... So, I wouldnít say my grounding was ideal... To talk of Gooch, he was a good captain, much better than what the statistics or his reputation may suggest.

On whether his inexperience, then, was a drawback

That was a difficult period for cricket in England... No central contracts were in place, the back-up support available today wasnít there... Quite a few changes, which are apparent now, hadnít taken place then... Clearly, the mid-Nineties was a peculiarly difficult period for England... The circumstances, then, didnít allow us to make an impact on the international scene.

On his style of captaincy

Youíve got to ask those who played under me... Yes, I did have occasions to read the Riot Act, there were moments when I raised my voice. You canít, obviously, keep doing it all the time... The impact goes.

On the captains who impressed him

Among contemporaries, Mark Taylor was excellent... However, you must be your own captain and not seek to copy somebody. In other words, be true to your instincts... Find your feet and do it your own way... Wonít I speak of anybody besides Taylor' Well, I donít particularly like handing out the good/bad grades.

On whether he regrets getting the captaincy at the wrong time (1993)

(Grins) Well, you can never choose the time to be captain... You canít choose your fate, your fate chooses you. I was, at that time, happy to be England captain and tried my hardest. I didnít allow the situation to overwhelm me.

On suddenly quitting during that tour (1997-98) of the West Indies

Iíd been captain for four and half years or so and that was opportunity enough to do whatever I could...

On whether captaincy had become a burden

Yes, the job did begin to affect my batting ó but, only towards the end... I was tired, the system then was different... Besides so much international cricket, one had to keep making appearances for the County... It was, as Iíve said, tiring. Frankly, Iíd had enough. After 53 Tests, my innings was over.

On whether it actually was easy to quit

It wasnít a hard decision because, in my mind, I was clear the time had come to leave the captaincy for somebody else.

On Nasser Hussainís captaincy

Heís doing well, the England team is progressing... Itís important for the captain and coach to be on the same wavelength and, certainly, Hussain and Duncan Fletcher have struck a fine rapport. A settled partnership is required and, for over three years, there hasnít been a change. Thatís good.

[Athertonís own relationship with Ray Illingworth, for example, was pretty mixed.]

On where Hussain could improve

Let me answer it this way: He will surely be happy to win a few more series...

On Sourav Gangulyís captaincy

Havenít formed an opinion yet... Perhaps, I can offer a detailed comment after The Oval Test.

Finally, whether he regrets that dirt-in-the-pocket incident (1994)

(Grins again) So many years on, I can look back on that with a wry sense of humour. Did that hurt my image' Honestly, the image bit never bothered me... In any case, over the years, there have been a few cricketers accused of ball-tampering...

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