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  Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Atherton's final call
Mike Atherton
After more than 12 years of gritty defiance, Mike Atherton is quitting first-class cricket. BBC Sport Online looks back at his career.

The final curtain has come down on the eventful career of Michael Andrew Atherton OBE.

England's longest serving captain - he performed the role on a record 54 occasions - confirmed his retirement on Tuesday.

And Atherton announced he will quit both international and first-class county cricket at the end of this season.

Any thoughts he might change his mind over his international future were dismissed at The Oval when he fell to Australian Glenn McGrath for the 19th time in his career.

Mike Atherton
Atherton departs The Oval the scene of his last Test?

His slow, measured walk back to the pavilion was the indication the crowd needed to rise to their feet and applaud England's best player of the last decade.

The acknowledgement that this was to be his last foray into the Test arena came with a sweeping wave of his bat, and the curtain came down on a career typified by grit and defiance.

The 33-year-old opener will leave Test cricket without attaining the prize he so dearly coveted - wresting back The Ashes from Australia.

Seven times he has battled to claim cricket's most famous trophy and seven times he has been denied.

But the admiration in which he is held among followers and players of cricket remains intact.

With 7,728 runs from 115 Test matches to his name, Atherton was renowned for his resilient, defensive approach at the top of the order.

Glenn McGrath takes the wicket of Atherton
McGrath proved Atherton's nemesis claiming him 19 times
Atherton was not one to court publicity.

He dealt with the acclaim for stoic performances like his heroic unbeaten 185 in Johannesburg in 1996 as phlegmatically as he dealt with the humiliation of resigning the captaincy after losing the 1998 Test series in the West Indies.

Such was the ebb and flow of Atherton's international career.

He made his England debut against Australia in 1989, scoring a duck, but soon struck his first Test century, making 151 in his third Test the following year against New Zealand.

After taking time out to rest his degenerative back problem, the 25-year-old was soon captaining England, replacing Graham Gooch in 1994.

It was a tough task for someone who was still to lead his county side and yet he had been labelled a future England captain for the bulk of his early career.

He had led Cambridge University, England U19s at the age of 16 and before that the Manchester Grammar School side, but it was hardly preparation for leading his country.

Mike Atherton was awarded his 100th Test cap in 2000
Atherton was awarded his 100th Test cap in 2000
His form with the bat suffered under the burden of captaincy, and yet he still produced a clutch of valuable innings.

Among them was 144 against West Indies in 1994, the 94 not out and 118 that contributed to the 2-0 win against New Zealand in 1997, the 10-hour 125 that helped England to a series win in Pakistan and the gutsy 185 not out in Johannesburg.

He did not baulk in the face of adversity, stubbornly refusing to stand down following the infamous dirt-in-the-pocket incident, when he allegedly tampered with the ball against South Africa at Lord's in 1994.

He stood firm despite a poor display in the 1996 World Cup and accepted the decision to have separate captains for Tests and one-day internationals, and by doing so consigned himself to the one-day sidelines.

Relinquishing the captaincy brought an immediate return to form for Atherton.

Mike Atherton meets Nelson Mandela in South Africa
Atherton meets Nelson Mandela in South Africa
The memorable face-off with Allan Donald soon followed, when Atherton answered the South African's hostile barrage to take England to a series-equalling victory with 98 not out.

His back problem ruled him out of the 1999 World Cup, but he returned to hit his highest first-class score for Lancashire, 268 not out, and won a recall to the Test squad and an England central contract.

He won his 100th Test cap last summer and he is now almost certain to embark on a lengthy career in the media.

But the sight of an England side batting without Atherton hunched, crab-like over his bat will take some getting used to.

Mike Atherton graphic

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