Michael Andrew Atherton
March 23, 1968, Failsworth, Manchester, Lancashire
Cockroach, FEC, Athers, Dread
Right hand bat
Manchester Grammar School; Downing College, Cambridge
Commentator, Journalist, Author
Gutsy and stubborn, single-minded and sledger-proof, Mike Atherton was an opener in the classic English tradition, making batting look like trench warfare. Defence was his forte, but when his bad back wasn't playing up, he hooked freely and timed the ball sweetly through point. In opponents' eyes, he was England's most wanted man for the seven years until his retirement at the end of the 2001 Ashes. Thrust into the captaincy at the age of 25, he proved more durable than successful, but after finally resigning in 1998, he slipped comfortably into the role of elder statesman. Australia seldom saw the best of him, but his relish for a personal duel did much to bring about series victories over both South Africa (1998) and West Indies (2000). He retired in 2001 and slipped easily into the media, establishing a reputation as one of the better player-broadcasters as well as a no-nonsense journalist. Lawrence Booth
It surprised nobody. Mike Atherton bowed out of Test cricket not with a sumptuous century but with a niggardly 9. His destroyer? That script had been written a long time ago.
At 12.15 on a gloomy Sunday, as England were following on, Glenn McGrath metronomed in, extracted some extra bounce, and Atherton edged him to Warne. He was McGrath's bunny for the sixth time in this series and for a world-record 19th time in all.
But records are just numbers, and numbers tell you next to nothing about Atherton. A final Test average of 38 adds up to just an adequate Test cricketer. But he was more than adequate, much more. For a decade he held England together. Nobody in the world has scored more Test runs since the start of the 1990s. He was the toffee apple surrounded by candy floss, the wicket above all others that the opposition savoured.
He was strong off the back foot, happiest pulling the fast bowlers, happiest of all when his back (which gave him much pain over the years) was forced against the wall. His defining moment came at Johannesburg in 1995-96, with a 643-minute 185 not out, which defied the forces of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and saved a Test that had been down and out. Make that defining monument.
And then two and a half years later, again against South Africa, again against Donald, he sealed his reputation. At Trent Bridge, in a session of cricket which parched the mouth, he resisted a furious onslaught of short-pitched bowling from around the wicket to take England to a series-turning victory.
Though he has never worn his nationality on his sleeve like Alec Stewart, Mike Atherton is nothing if not English. From his stubbornness to his accent, from his scruffiness to his guts, he oozed pride in his job - never made excuses for a bad shot, always knew that there was more to life than a century. And despite his media persona of impeccable grumpiness, perfected during his record-breaking run as captain, he was much loved by the public. An Englishman who made runs during the 1990s was forgiven anything.
He was an unconventional cricketer. He didn't marry early, he hasn't had children, he didn't care to flash his private life around the papers. He preferred Pat Barker to Tom Clancy and chess to PlayStation. He wasn't afraid of controversy - the dirt-in-the-pocket affair, his unconcealed disagreements with his second chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth, his early promotion to the captaincy over the head of the un-Cambridge-educated Stewart.
He wanted to leave without a fuss, and he did. There was no bang, but neither, despite the single-figure score, was there a hint of a whimper. Cricket will miss Michael Atherton. Tanya Aldred, September 2001
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