Michael Atherton

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Michael Atherton
Personal information
Full nameMichael Andrew Atherton
Born (1968-03-23) 23 March 1968 (age 53)
Failsworth, Lancashire, England
NicknameAthers, Cockroach, Dready, Iron Mike, FEC, Long Handle
Height6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
BowlingRight arm leg break
Role Batsman
Relations Josh de Caires (son)
Website http://www.mikeatherton.co.uk/
International information
National side
Test debut(cap  538)10 August 1989 v  Australia
Last Test27 August 2001 v  Australia
ODI debut(cap  108)18 July 1990 v  India
Last ODI20 August 1998 v  Sri Lanka
Domestic team information
1987–1989 Cambridge University
1987–2001 Lancashire
Career statistics
Competition Test ODI FC LA
Runs scored7,7281,79121,9299,343
Batting average 37.6935.1140.8336.49
Top score185* 127268* 127
Balls bowled4088,981812
Wickets 210824
Bowling average 151.0043.8229.62
5 wickets in innings 030
10 wickets in match000
Best bowling1/206/784/42
Catches/stumpings 83/–15/–268/–111/–
Source: CricketArchive, 1 September 2007

Michael Andrew Atherton OBE (born 23 March 1968) [1] is a broadcaster, journalist and a former England international first-class cricketer. A right-handed opening batsman for Lancashire and England, and occasional leg-break bowler, he achieved the captaincy of England at the age of 25 and led the side in a record 54 Test matches. [2] Known for his stubborn resistance during an era of hostile fast bowling, Atherton was described in 2001 as a determined defensive opener who made "batting look like trench warfare". [3] He had several famed bouts with bowlers including South Africa's Allan Donald [4] and Australia's Glenn McGrath. [5] Atherton often played the anchor role at a time when England batting performances lacked consistency. [3]


His playing career included controversy, including ball tampering, and several brushes with the media with whom, by Atherton's own admission, he did not have a good understanding when he was a player. [3] Often hampered by a chronic back complaint which was to contribute to the end of his career, Atherton was considered a leading England batsman during the 1990s. Following retirement he became a journalist and is a cricket commentator with Sky Sports, and chief cricket correspondent of The Times .

Early career

Atherton was born in Failsworth, Lancashire, England. [3] His family includes several known sportspeople, such as his father Alan, [6] a former Manchester United reserve goalkeeper in the 1960s. [7]

As a youth, he captained the Manchester Grammar School cricket team, for whom he scored almost 3,500 runs and took 170 wickets. [8] His performances led to selection for the England under-19 team, which he captained aged 16. He also represented Lancashire Schools from 1982 to 1986. [9] In 1983 he won the Jack Hobbs Memorial Award as the Outstanding Schoolboy Cricketer at under-15 level. In a (non-first-class) match against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1984 he took 6–27. [10]

Entering Downing College, Cambridge, to read History, he was selected at 18 to play for Cambridge University Cricket Club and awarded a blue. [11] A year later he made 73 on his county debut for Lancashire, scoring his maiden first-class hundred against Derbyshire a fortnight later. [12] During this time he represented his university, the Combined Universities cricket team (which he captained to the quarter finals of the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1989) and his county. [13] This early rise through the ranks, and extensive leadership experience earned him the nickname "FEC", which is thought to have stood for "future England captain". In his autobiography Opening Up, Atherton is candid about the fact that there are more colourful alternatives for "FEC"; the second word being "educated"; as suggested by his teammates at the time. [14]

International career

Atherton's heady rise continued when he made his debut for England in the fifth test of 1989 against Australia at Trent Bridge, where he scored 0 and 47. [15] Atherton's chance came when several England players announced their decision to go on a rebel tour to South Africa and so were banned from the Test team. Despite these defections, he was selected as vice-captain of the 1989–90 A-team tour to Zimbabwe rather than for the West Indies tour. He learned that he would make his debut when captain David Gower threw a plastic bag of England caps and sweaters at him. [16]

Atherton returned to the England side in the summer of 1990, partnering Graham Gooch at the top of the order and giving the first demonstration of his abilities at international level. In his first innings after recall, and his first opening the batting for England, he scored 151 against New Zealand. [17] He shared an opening partnership of 204 with Gooch against India at Lord's, in the match famous for Gooch's scores of 333 and 123, [18] and Test centuries against New Zealand and India earned him the title of Young Cricketer of the Year.

During the winter of 1990–91, Atherton faced a sterner test on the Ashes tour of Australia. Although he made a century in the third Test at Sydney, he averaged just 31 for his 279 runs, and England lost 3–0.

When Australia arrived for the 1993 Ashes series, Atherton's place in the team was not assured. However, a consistent summer, during which he scored six 50s in six Tests (including 99 at Lord's), cemented his place in the side at a fortunate time. Graham Gooch, frustrated by continual losses against Australia, resigned as captain after the fourth Test and Atherton, aged just 25, replaced him. He lost his first match in charge but England managed to beat Australia in a morale-boosting final Test; England had not beaten Australia in the previous 18 Test matches.

Atherton's first tour as captain, to the West Indies in the winter of 1993–94, was not a success as England lost 3–1. This was a series of highs and lows: Brian Lara of the West Indies compiled a world-record 375 against them at Antigua; England were bowled out for 46 to lose the third Test (and with it the series) but then roared back at Bridgetown to win the fourth Test thanks to two centuries from Alec Stewart. For his part, Atherton was the best of the English batsmen, scoring 510 runs at an average of 56.67.

Earning plaudits for his determination and leadership, Atherton followed up with two centuries in the first two Tests at home against New Zealand. His reputation suffered a blow when he was implicated in a ball-tampering controversy during the first Test against South Africa at Lord's, for which he was fined £2,000 by Ray Illingworth. Atherton was accused of lying to Peter Burge, the match referee. [ citation needed ] Atherton claims in his autobiography that he answered 'no' when asked if he had anything in his pockets. He believed that Burge was referring to nefarious substances such as resin or lip salve. Nonetheless the TV pictures were damning, showing Atherton deliberately putting dirt, taken from the pitch, on the ball. Strictly speaking, Atherton was not breaking the laws – he pointed out that plenty of bowlers improve their grip on the ball by rubbing their hands on the pitch. [ citation needed ]

After this incident Atherton and England headed to Headingley for the second Test. Atherton played one of his best innings, grinding out 99 before being caught and bowled by Brian McMillan. Atherton stated that this innings was the best answer he could have given to the 'gutter press'. He led England to a win in the third Test at the Oval, which tied the series, although he failed to score a century.

Mike Atherton's Test career performance graph Mike Atherton Graph.png
Mike Atherton's Test career performance graph

After winning against South Africa, Atherton faced the supreme test of his leadership: an Ashes tour to Australia. His form stood well, with 407 runs at 40.7, but he was unable to convert any of his five half-centuries into a hundred. Although England had a thrilling win at Adelaide, the team stumbled to a 1–3 loss.

The next two years followed a similar pattern. Although success against lower-rated sides such as Zimbabwe and New Zealand suggested that England were improving, the team continued to struggle against the talent of Australia and Pakistan. The lack of consistent progress and the effect of a back ailment contributed to Atherton's decision to resign after five years as captain.

Atherton continued to play Test cricket for a further four years before retiring at the end of the 2001 Ashes. However, plagued by his chronic back condition, he did not manage to attain his previous levels of performance.

Atherton's finest performances came when he had his back against the wall. Notable examples include his monumental 185 not out in 643 minutes to salvage a draw against South Africa, [19] [20] and his negation of an outstanding Allan Donald onslaught in 1998. [21] [22] This doggedness prompted Steve Waugh to dub him "The Cockroach", [23] but his record against Australia was modest. He averaged under thirty, with only one century in 33 tests. [24] and he was dismissed 19 times by Glenn McGrath, the Australian opening bowler, a record for any bowler against one batsman. [25]

Alongside McGrath two other world-class bowlers frequently tormented Atherton, with Courtney Walsh dismissing him 17 times and Shane Warne 10 times. As well as being seen as struggling against the very best, Atherton has the dubious honour of having the lowest batting average of any player to have scored 6,000 or more runs in Test cricket. He was also dismissed for nought on 20 occasions at Test level, which was an English record at the time of his retirement. [26]

International centuries

During his career Atherton made 18 centuries in international cricket, 16 of which were scored in Tests while the other two came in One Day Internationals. In Tests, 13 of his centuries came in the first innings and 3 in the second innings. In ODIs, one century came in the first innings and the other whilst chasing.


Test cricket centuries

Test centuries scored by Atherton [27]
No.ScoreAgainst Pos. Inn. TestVenueH/A/NDateResultRef
1Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 211/3 Flag of England.svg Trent Bridge, Nottingham Home7 June 1990Draw [28]
2Flag of India.svg  India 212/3 Flag of England.svg Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester Home9 August 1990Draw [29]
3Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 213/5 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney Away4 January 1991Draw [30]
4WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg  West Indies 212/5 WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg Bourda, Georgetown Away17 March 1994Loss [31]
5WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg  West Indies 115/5 WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg Antigua Recreation Ground, St. Johns Away16 April 1994Draw [32]
6Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 111/3 Flag of England.svg Trent Bridge, Nottingham Home2 June 1994Win [33]
7Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 113/3 Flag of England.svg Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester Home16 April 1994Draw [34]
8WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg  West Indies 215/6 Flag of England.svg Trent Bridge, Nottingham Home10 April 1995Draw [35]
9Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 122/5 Flag of South Africa.svg Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg Away30 November 1995Draw [36]
10Flag of India.svg  India 113/3 Flag of England.svg Trent Bridge, Nottingham Home4 July 1996Draw [37]
11Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 213/3 Flag of New Zealand.svg Lancaster Park, Christchurch Away14 February 1997Win [38]
12Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 211/5 Flag of England.svg Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham Home4 June 1998Draw [39]
13Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 212/5 Flag of South Africa.svg Crusaders, Port Elizabeth Away9 December 1999Draw [40]
14Flag of Zimbabwe.svg  Zimbabwe 112/2 Flag of England.svg Trent Bridge, Nottingham Home1 June 2000Draw [41]
15WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg  West Indies 125/5 Flag of England.svg The Oval, London Home31 August 2000Win [42]
16Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan 125/5 Flag of Pakistan.svg National Stadium, Karachi, Karachi Away7 December 2000Win [43]

ODI Centuries

ODI centuries scored by Atherton [44]
No.ScoreAgainst Pos. Inn. ODIVenueH/A/NDateResultRef
1WestIndiesCricketFlagPre1999.svg  West Indies 113/3 Flag of England.svg Lord's, London Home28 May 1995Win [45]
2Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 122/3 Flag of England.svg The Oval, London Home24 May 1997Win [46]

Post-playing career

Atherton conducting interviews for Sky Sports during the 2006-07 Ashes series Athers3.JPG
Atherton conducting interviews for Sky Sports during the 2006–07 Ashes series

Since his retirement from the game, Atherton has carved out a successful career in the media. He was a journalist for The Sunday Telegraph and succeeded Christopher Martin-Jenkins as The Times cricket correspondent on 1 May 2008. [47]

Between 2002 and 2005, he was a member of the Channel 4 commentary team for the coverage of Test cricket in England. During this period he also worked as a commentator for BBC Radio and Talksport on Test matches outside England. Atherton joined the Sky Sports commentary team in 2005, after they won the rights to live Test cricket in England, joining long-time England teammate Nasser Hussain, their former England coach David "Bumble" Lloyd and former England captain David Gower. He commentates on all forms of the game, home and abroad, as well as covering some domestic matches. He often performs as the post-match master of ceremonies for internationals in England, presenting awards and interviewing players.

In 2002 he produced his autobiography: Opening Up. He has also written Gambling: A Story of Triumph and Disaster, published in 2006.

In March 2010 he won Sports Journalist of the Year, at the British Press Awards. The judges announced this was "a unanimous choice", praised the former England cricket captain for "tackling subjects way beyond cricket" and said "the brilliance of his writing shines."[ citation needed ]

He was one of the commentators in 2011 Cricket World Cup. He has gained fame for his no nonsense but dryly humorous views on cricket.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

Atherton is married to Isabelle De Caires (granddaughter of West Indies test cricketer Frank De Caires), hailing from Guyana. The couple has two sons. [48]

Atherton's eldest son, Joshua de Caires, signed a professional contract with Middlesex in 2020 after playing for the county's academy since Under 15 level. He made his first-class debut for Middlesex versus Gloucestershire at Cheltenham on 5 July 2021. [49]


Atherton suffers from the degenerative condition ankylosing spondylitis, which meant he could not duck under bouncers, but had to stand tall and sway out of the way. Allan Donald used this against him by bowling short. [50] [51]

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Written sources
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Graham Gooch
English national cricket captain
Succeeded by
Alec Stewart