Glorious Summers and Discontents
Mike Atherton selects the best pieces he has written over the last decade. It has been a dramatic period, seeing the rise of Twenty20 and the IPL, as well as seeing the revival of England’s prospects, breaking Australia’s long-held domination of the Ashes. There has been controversy, too, with terrorist attacks and corruption distracting lovers of the game from the events on the field.
“Even when one disagrees with Atherton, there remains the sense of encountering a civilised, intelligent human being for whom cricket is not just a game but an expression of wider values.” Wisden Cricketer.
With Australia having lost their invincible aura and an improving England side having home advantage, the 2009 Ashes series was always likely to be a gripping contest. And with the hero of 2005, Andrew Flintoff, announcing this was to be his swansong, the level of interest reached fever point. Watching on throughout, with a calm, insightful eye was former England captain Mike Atherton, whose reports on the Ashes series in The Times were required reading for all fans of the sport. Having played in seven Ashes series himself, he understands precisely the unique pressures of cricket’s longest and most intense international rivalry. In Atherton’s Ashes, he provides his day-by-day account of how the fortunes of both sides fluctuated throughout a terrific summer of cricket. He analyses the key turning points for each team and reveals the vital technical issues that can make or break a player in such high-pressure scenarios. He explains how the decisions of the captains, Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting, helped shape events and brings vividly to life the best of the action. Atherton’s Ashes is sure to be the definitive word on the brilliant 2009 series, where the outcome hung in the balance until the final Test.
Captain of the national side at 25, and one of the most successful top-flight opening batsmen in the game, the bare facts of Mike Atherton’s career portray him as one of the golden boys of English cricket, but in Opening Up he reflects on a sporting life equally characterised by his struggle to match lofty expectations, and the off-field politicking that tested his resourcefulness to the limit.
From his early days as a university-educated upstart marching into a Lancashire first-team dressing room filled with seasoned pros, to the constant wrangling behind the scenes of the English game, and a rarely harmonious relationship with the press, Atherton has found himself engaged in a constant battle to retain focus on events out in the middle. Even when there, things were far from plain sailing, and he recounts it all with admirable candour, epitomised by the story of his Test debut, where the fresh-faced youngster was given a lesson in professional reality by a senior team-mate: “You play your first [Test] for love, and the rest for money”. Elsewhere, amid the analysis of his time at the helm of an often struggling England side, Atherton highlights a career-long battle with injury and pain suppression, which resulted in what would have been seen in other eras as a very early retirement. At the centre of the book is the infamous ball-tampering row in 1994. Illustrated with extracts from Atherton’s diary of the time, the man at the centre of the huge media storm makes a concerted defence of what many argued was behaviour unworthy of any cricketer, let alone a national captain.
Gambling is a fascinating account of gambling through history, from Greek mythology and the ancient role of lots, dice and cards, to the high profile cricket and football match throwing and ‘super casinos’ of today. Mike Atherton explores this controversial and captivating phenomenon and the way that many present day sports provide the most popular focus for gambling, why so many of today’s sportsmen become fervent gamblers and how in some cases this has led to corruption, addiction and ruined reputations. Unforgettable cases such as the Cronje and Grobbelar incidents will be analysed in detail. He investigates why such a high proportion of the of the world’s population have always sought out risk, and how this trend has encompassed all social classes and cultures.