Atherton moves to The Times

Mike Atherton has been announced as The Times’ chief cricket correspondent, replacing Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Atherton is the foremost player-turned-writer and, at 39, quite young to hold such a prestigious post.

He’s by some distance my favourite writer, as he marries a deep knowledge of the game during his time as a player with the detachment required to write about it. The Times is also my favourite paper, so now there’s no reason to waste any more money on The Telegraph.

Warne’s 50 greatest cricketers

Shane Warne has run out of ideas for his Times column and, like a Channel 4 producer bereft of inspiration, is producing a list. But it ought to be far more entertaining than those interminable countdowns (“100 greatest romantic moments” etc), so take a look. In today’s (50-41) are Mike Atherton (43) and Alec Stewart (44)

Dying embers

Even the Lancashire dressing room of my time was inhabited by half-a-dozen or so. Nick Speak, Graham Lloyd, Phil De Freitas, Wasim Akram and Graeme Fowler all paid constant homage to nicotine. Early season Benson and Hedges games, when sponsors not only provided loot but product as well, produced a terrific scramble for those distinctive yellow bricks; even the non-smokers were known to hoard a packet or two to bargain with. How about a few half-volleys in the nets then, Daffy?

Phil Tufnell and Wayne Larkins were the culprits on my first England tour. Because I was a first-time tourist, and because I have no sense of smell, I was forced to room alternately with ‘Tuffers’ and ‘Ned’ for the whole five months.

Another cracking piece from Mike Atherton in The Sunday Telegraph.

If…with Mike Atherton

Has anyone else listened and watched Sky’s advertisement for their all-consuming coverage this summer? It’s fronted (for want of a better word, as it’s a voice over) by Mike Atherton. Now then. Athers is many things, but a voice-over artiste he is not. He sounds about as enthused as a prisoner who’s just been told that, yes, today he is allowed one hour of sunlight as opposed to the usual 45 minutes.

Athers recites Rudyard Kipling’s If and it’s as sickly and inappropriate as it sounds. (not Athers’ fault of course, but Sky’s ferocious marketers)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

Incidentally I came across some viewing figures on the Beeb yesterday which make make interesting reading. I put them on CI…will dig them out later.

Atherton on England’s “blind faith”

Another supreme piece from Athers in today’s Sunday Telegraph:

England can beat South Africa and the West Indies, but it would be almost a miscarriage of justice if they found themselves in the semi-finals. And in terms of learning lessons for the future, it might not do English cricket much good at all to know that you can turn up relying on hope and blind faith and still go all the way

Read the full thing here.

“Wait there, mate”?

Michael Clarke does it. Andrew Symonds utters it far too regularly. Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting have been known to do it too. I’m talking about a new phenomenon creeping into Australia’s cricket: appending “mate” to the end of every “yes,” “no” or “wait” call from the batsmen. Symonds’s laissez faire “nah, mate” was a particular lowlight this evening. Are these pampered prancers playing an international sport or having a Sunday knock around in the park? Granted, with James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood sending down wide after no-ball, it’s hard to tell the difference. But standards are standards; respect is respect and, with my English cap firmly on, I do not like it.

On a similar topic, I always enjoyed the calm, crisp calls from Mike Atherton – my hero as a youngster. There was no mateyness back then – oh no. Just a firm yes, no, or wait. When he really hit his straps, nudging one behind square for a gluttonous two, he’d call “running” to the non-striker which conveyed a batsman in control of proceedings. But still – there was no “yeah mate, two there”.

Outlaw such verbal sloppiness immediately, else ban Australians from playing any form of sport internationally.

NB: potential solution. We stupidly let the whole world speak English – we should’ve rented the language to countries on an annual contract. This is clearly a brilliant idea. Misuse would incur financial penalties and we, as Britons, could charge people for improper use. I need to stop writing this now.

Sport’s glorious futility

No, there is little to be gained by cancelling. Indeed, surely the whole point of sport is to act as a necessary counterpoint to the grim realities of life. We know that death is a part of life because we see it, in one form or another, every day. Like drugs and alcohol, sport provides an escape from the routine absurdity of everyday existence – and thankfully without any of the side effects.

It gives us the chance to experience the best that life has to offer, usually without serious consequences. We win, we lose, and then we go home and get on with life.

We submit to sport’s arcane rules and regulations and rituals. We recognise that we will need to show courage and skill, and we train hard for the event knowing that we are undertaking an ultimately futile task. It is this futility that explains sport’s universal appeal, that and the desire to satisfy a basic human urge to play.

Sport loses its appeal when it is invested with fake importance. This is why English football engenders scant respect: the managers who snarl and spit at players and officials from the sidelines; the players who confuse competitiveness with sometimes vicious intent; and the supporters who cannot cope with the fact that in sport there must nearly always be a loser.

They have all clearly forgotten that Bill Shankly had his tongue firmly planted in his Scottish cheek when he said that football was more important than life or death.

Sport is not more important. And it won’t help to bring Woolmer back, but it might help us to cope.

One of the most insightful, and certainly the most reasoned and balanced article that I’ve read so far on the Woolmer murder and why cricket must go on. But it also re-enforces the often forgotten notion that cricket is a game. Predictably, it’s by Atherton, and it’s a superb read.

Andrew Strauss in line for captaincy

As soon as he hit a hundred on his debut in 2004, Andrew Strauss was talked of as a future England captain. Since then, despite a recent minor-blip in form, many have spoken that he should have taken over from Michael Vaughan when he missed England’s tour of India and not Andrew Flintoff.

Following England’s defeat in the final Test against Sri Lanka, Flintoff’s “follow me, lads” style of captaincy has received criticism from Mike Atherton, among others, and it’s noteworthy that Strauss has been chosen. This surely represents the first signal that it is he, rather than Flintoff, that Duncan Fletcher and co. want to lead England in the post-Vaughan era (which could come sooner than we think).

England face Ireland tomorrow for the first time, at Stormont, before a Twenty20 against Sri Lanka at the Rose Bowl on Thursday ahead of the first one-dayer at Lord’s on Saturday.

The clapping seal

Jenny, my colleage at Cricinfo, has had two rather good days in the past week. Firstly, during the final Test at Trent Bridge, she spent a day with David Gower, Nasser Hussain, Ian Botham and the other Sky commentators. Naturally she’s in love with every single one of them (our ears are bleeding) but they all sound like great fun (and they have a lot of fun, too). David Lloyd (“Bumble”) is as you would expect him to be: sharp, constantly witty and an allround top bloke. Anyway I can’t spoil her piece; she’s writing it up and it’ll be published at Cricinfo quite soon.

As if that couldn’t be topped, today she faced an over (I think) at Shane Warne! And interviewed him and other stuff. So that’s two fairly cool (and unique) things you should keep an eye out on Cricinfo.

It’s gone for a maximum

Bloody one-day cricket. It’s ruining commentators. No sooner has Mike Atherton shamed his colleagues with an effortless and elegant description of a boundary (“Languidly stroked for four”) than another screams “Oooh oh, it’s gone for a maximum”. I hate that expression. What’s wrong with “It’s gone for six”? Pah.c