As it happened - Atherton's take on a decade of cricket drama

Exclusive two-part interview -- Part Two tomorrow

When Mike Atherton first set foot in a cricket press box as a writer rather than a player he knew there would be some who would resent his presence.  He had captained an England team to which winning seldom came easily and his relationship with the journalists who would now be his colleagues had at times been stormy.

It is one reason he was determined that if nothing else he would prove himself at least worthy of respect, doing the job as well as he could, striving to improve.  Honoured by his peers two years in a row at the Sports Journalists’ Association’s annual awards, he has clearly achieved that particular goal.

“I don’t write for awards but of course it is nice to get some recognition,” he said.  “But for me what’s really important if you are a former sportsman and you go into the press box is that you treat it seriously, write your own stuff and do the best job you can.

“There will inevitably be some who will think you shouldn’t be there, that you are taking other people’s jobs and I understand that point of view.

“But even though I had, let’s say, a reasonably robust relationship with the media as captain, for the most part people have been supportive and appear to hold no grudges. And vice versa -- because there was plenty of nasty stuff written about me. But I was not going to carry that forward either.”

It is now almost 10 years since the final Test of the 2001 Ashes series brought down the curtain on Atherton’s career. Already established then as a columnist with the Sunday Telegraph, he quickly cut his teeth in broadcasting with Channel Four and joined Sky Sports in 2005, bringing a pleasing style that mixed authoritative commentary with a sense of humour.

But he continued to write and in 2008 his journalistic career moved to a new level when he was appointed cricket correspondent of The Times in succession to Christopher Martin-Jenkins.  With a daily platform his writing flourished, in particular in the regular columns that supplement his reporting of the England team.

Now, the best of his work -- taken from the Sunday Telegraph and Wisden Cricket Monthly as well as The Times -- in the last decade has been assembled in a new book, Glorious Summers and Discontents, a collection of pieces, chosen by himself, which also serves as a chronicle of 10 years in cricket.

“The first half of the book deals with lots of issue areas such as Kevin Pietersen, the Allen Stanford affair, Twenty20 and match fixing, while the second half includes a few games and a few players I have enjoyed watching,” he said.

“Journalism is a bit ephemeral and not really intended to be preserved in book form but it is nice to see these articles put together because there are some of them I quite like.”

As a cricketer who has written a noted history of gambling, it is clear that Atherton’s curiosity stretches beyond the immediate boundaries of his working environment and some of his choices reflect that.

“There is one on the West Indian former cricketer Richard Austin that I was particularly proud of,” he said.  “He is a crack addict in Jamaica.

“I’d actually come across him on my last tour there as captain in 1998 when the team stayed at the Hilton Hotel and Austin was living in the car park opposite, under a bush.

“I had always been interested in the story of the West Indian cricketers who went to South Africa on the rebel tour. Unlike in England, where we have not only rehabilitated our rebel cricketers but in many cases given them top jobs, in the Caribbean they were really ostracised because they were black men who were perceived to have taken blood money.

“And a few of them have really struggled.  Austin is a crack addict and a fellow called Herbert Chang is living rough on the streets in a place called Greenwich Town on the docks in Kingston.  Bernard Julien just had to leave, Lawrence Rowe went to the States.

“There was a broader theme to the piece but Richard Austin was the one I remembered because I had seen him play league cricket in Lancashire when I was a kid.  He was a brilliant sportsman and to see the contrast with that and him living on the streets was incredible.

“During my last tour there for The Times I enquired about where he was and Michael Holding helped me find him. The deadlines when you are filing from the West Indies make it quite a full-on tour and to get out on the streets of Kingston and actually find him was quite an effort in itself, but I think it made quite a nice piece.”

Read Mike Atherton’s piece on Richard Austin as it appeared in The Times

Buy Glorious Summers and Discontents: Looking Back on the Ups and Downs from a Dramatic Decade, published by Simon & Schuster, direct from Amazon

TOMORROW -- Mike Atherton talks about learning the craft of writing and the challenges of working with a microphone in one hand and a pen (or rather a laptop) in the other.

Read Part Two

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