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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Atherton's darkest day
Michael Atherton (c)
Atherton was at the centre of a media storm
Following Mike Atherton's retirement from international cricket, BBC Sport Online looks back at an incident which formed an indelible blot on his Test career.

For all the plaudits awarded to Mike Atherton, there will always be one incident which casts an unsavoury shadow over recollections of his England career.

The 1994 "dirt in the pocket" affair came at a time when he was still a relative novice in international captaincy terms, having been appointed to the job just 12 months earlier.

Ball tampering allegations were nothing new in cricket, but it came as a major shock when TV footage showed Atherton apparently rubbing something onto the ball during the Lord's Test against South Africa.

High standards were expected of England skippers, who had to be seen to be almost whiter than white.

Mike Atherton and then chairman of selectors Mike Atherton
Atherton talks things over with Ray Illingworth

Only six years earlier, Mike Gatting had lost the captaincy following tabloid allegations concerning an incident at the England team hotel.

Atherton was summoned to a meeting with match referee Peter Burge at the close of play and 24 hours later submitted himself to the ordeal of a press conference to give his version of events.

Clearly irritated, he insisted he had never used any substance to alter the condition of a ball at any time during his career.

He claimed he had used the dirt in his pocket to dry his hands in order to prevent any sweat from his palms getting onto the ball as he relayed it to the bowler from his position at mid-off.

"The dirt in my pocket was used to dry my fingers because it was a hot and humid day.

Resignation calls

"We were trying to get the ball to reverse swing. You need one side of the ball to remain completely dry," he explained.

Atherton acknowledged he had not mentioned the dirt in his pocket to the match referee and he was subsequently fined 2,000.

He was pressed on whether he accepted that the TV pictures suggested he had been tampering with the ball

"The umpires check the ball at the end of each over and the umpires had complaint with the condition of the ball.

  Atherton's captaincy record
1993-94 v West Indies
W 1 L3 D1
1994 v New Zealand
W1 L0 D2
1994 v South Africa
W1 L1 D1
1994-95 v Australia
W1 L3 D1
1995 v West Indies
W2 L2 D2
1995-96 v South Africa
W0 L1 D4
1996 v India
W1 L0 D2
1996 v Pakistan
W0 L2 D1
1996-97 v New Zealand
W2 L0 D1
1996-97 v Zimbabwe
W0 L0 D2
1997 v Australia
W2 L3 D1
1997-97 v West Indies
W1 L3 D2
2001 v Australia (2 Tests only) W0 L2 D0

"There was no complaint by anybody that the condition of the ball had been altered and I would reiterate that during my career I have never used any substance to either polish the ball falsely or deteriorate the condition of the other side of the ball."

The press coverage and a frenzy of calls for him to resign consequently soured his relations with the media, earning him the tag "Captain Grumpy".

But his famous stubborn streak was revealed when he dug in his heels and refused to resign over the issue.

It was not the only incident to sour Atherton's time in charge.

Mixed record

During the 1996 World Cup, he was irritated by a question from journalist Asghar Ali following England's defeat by South Africa.

"Can someone get this buffoon out of here?" Atherton asked.

The incident was still rumbling on when England returned to Pakistan last winter, with Ali attempting legal action against Atherton for defamation.

But that was of little significance compared to what had happened at Lord's two years earlier.

Mike Atherton
Atherton was briefly back in charge this summer

Although Atherton's indomitable spirit came to England's rescue on several occasions, his captaincy record overall was poor.

In a record run of 52 Tests as skipper, only 13 victories were recorded, with 19 games ending in defeat.

His only success on foreign soil was a 2-0 victory in New Zealand in 1996-97 and he had to be persuaded to lead England to the West Indies in 1998 following a crushing defeat in Australia the previous winter.

He could take the pressure no more after a 3-1 series loss and resigned after the final Test.

An injury to Nasser Hussain prompted the England selectors to give the captaincy back to Atherton for two Ashes Tests this summer.

Although a reluctant leader, he did the job with his customary thoroughness and dedication, but was unable to stop the Australian machine and both matches ended in defeat for England.

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