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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
A career over too soon
Atherton leaves The Oval after his final Test innings
Atherton leaves The Oval after his final Test innings
BBC Sport's Jonathan Agnew reflects upon the achievements and sometimes controversial events of Michael Atherton's career.

It is always sad when an outstanding sportsman calls it a day and this is particularly true when the player is only 33.

Mike Atherton would have been entering the phase of his career that many who have gone before him found to be their most successful.

Batsmen like Graham Gooch, Geoff Boycott, Sunil Gavaskar and Colin Cowdrey all flourished in their mid-to-late 30s.

Atherton answers questions about alleged ball tampering
Atherton faces the press in 1994

But none of them suffered from the crippling, degenerative back condition that has blighted much of Atherton's career.

An operation 10 years ago was the first warning of the trouble that lay ahead, and there have been times when he could barely get out of bed in the morning.

But he always shrugged off and minimised these problems.

Never were they used as an excuse.

Atherton has always had the ideal temperament for Test cricket.

From the moment he made his debut in 1989, it was clear he would quickly establish himself as one of England's most successful batsmen.

And, of course, there was always that unfortunate label of "future England captain" hanging round his neck.

Grimly determined

I remember the day he was eventually appointed.

Gooch had resigned at Leeds after the 1993 Ashes had been lost.

A bright new dawn broke over English cricket that day as Atherton, fresh-faced, outwardly innocent yet grimly determined, took the reins.

Ted Dexter, his chairman of selectors, resigned during Atherton's first Test in charge.

England won the next match at The Oval and the unlikely combination of Atherton and Ray Illingworth was soon running things.

Ball tampering

It was the following summer, 1994, that everything changed.

Atherton was caught on camera rubbing something - later confirmed to be dirt - onto the ball during a test against South Africa.

This split the press box so completely that, to this day, the scars still remain.

I was one of those who believed that an England captain should not be involved in anything that could be construed as ball tampering and felt that he should resign.

Atherton celebrates his unbeaten 185 against South Africa in 1995
Atherton celebrates his unbeaten 185 against South Africa

Some were not so strident while others, blinkered in my view, could not see that what he had done was wrong.

Things were never the same again.

Atherton's attitude towards the media changed largely to one of non-cooperation and he earned the rather unfair nickname of "Captain Grumpy".

The Lancastrian has never been grumpy and it is a great shame that the public did not see the other side of him until he gave up the captaincy.

Atherton eventually resigned as skipper after a record 52 Tests, following a traumatic and quite unnecessary defeat in the West Indies.

I will never forget his brilliant innings of 10-and-three-quarter hours at the Wanderers, Johannesburg in 1995.

Atherton scored 185 not out to thwart the South Africans and earn England a draw.

It was pure Atherton, and I doubt if he has derived so much pleasure before or since.

However, I now look forward to welcoming him into the commentary box where, with his insight and underestimated wit, he will be a great asset.

See also:

27 Aug 01 |  The Ashes
Stubborn Atherton ready to go
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