Micheal Atherton, ‘Atherton’s Ashes: How England Won the 2009 Ashes’


In the last few days I have been reliving the 2009 Ashes through the perspective of Micheal Atherton. Spurred on by the seemingly never-ending highlights of cricket nostalgia on Sky Sports Cricket, I drew out Atherton’s Ashes: How England Won the 2009 Ashes from my bookshelf. 

The 2009 Ashes – in which, England recapture the urn, recovering from a 5-0 drubbing two years earlier – has always held a special place in my cricketing memory. My earliest recollection of televised cricket is Day 5 of the First Test in Cardiff. James Anderson and Monty Panesar, two quintessential tailenders, were tasked with holding out 11.3 overs in order to save the match. I watched on as the fated pair blocked ball after ball, the crowd cheering every dot, and Ricky Ponting’s captaincy becoming increasingly erratic. To the surprise of many, they were able to hold on – Monty even carving an elegant cut shot through point’s legs for four. It was a remarkable result, and one that in the grand scheme of things, could easily have saved the series; from 1-0 up Australia would have been immensely difficult to beat. 

Reading through the book I was transported to a different cricketing world: Allen Stanford, the Stanford Super Series and the embarrassment of the ECB; the rise of IPL and the inevitable conflict with international commitments; the birth of the celebrity cricketer (Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen). These are the talking points and anxieties that crop up again and again. Although only eleven years ago, it feels like a distant era, testament to the game’s evolution in the last decade. 

Australia are in the midst of the post-Warne era, still two years before gifted off-spinner Nathan Lyon will make his test bow (although, he didn’t exactly solve their spin issue straight away) and unable to find a successor. Ponting is captaining the side and entering the twilight of his career – not the insightful commentator and well-respected batting coach that we see today. Peter Siddle, a youthful and angry quick hailing from Victoria, is looking to make a mark. It is vaguely satisfying to consider how their respective careers have panned out. More so to check Atherton’s prophecies and predictions against reality (he seems reluctant for the selectors to give a certain Jonathan Trott – 4,000 odd Test runs at 44 – a go, for example). 

I have always considered Atherton an adroit commentator – a source of reason in the commentary box, a kind of calming influence offsetting the likes of David Lloyd or Nasser Hussain. Yet in the book he comes across as somewhat critical: apart from Ponting and perhaps Andrew Strauss, every player in the series drifts unknowingly into the firing line. Even Shane Watson, a makeshift opener who averaged 48 and scored three fifties in the series, does not escape criticism. The book, it has to be mentioned, is a piecing together of Atherton’s daily articles for The Times during the course of the Ashes. Sports journalism demands strong opinions and controversy for the sake of interest, and so I think Atherton’s occasionally excessive statements can be excused. Aside from that, he is a joy to read – his witty similes a real highlight: “It is almost as if, like Prufrock, Flintoff saw the moment of his greatness flicker and was afraid”. It is also clear that he is a great thinker, one who values the integrity of the game and its traditions. 

Atherton’s Ashes casts an eye back on the hotly contested England-Australia Test Series of 2009. For both teams, most of the icons of 2005 (Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Simon Jones, Michael Vaughan – I could go on) had reached the end of their Test careers, and so the cricket was not of the highest calibre. But the excitement lay in the thrilling finale at Cardiff, the drama and the frequent shifts in the balance of power from Test-to-Test.

Below I have noted down a few interesting statistics from the series:

  • Cardiff was the 100th Test match venue, and the 9th to be used in the UK.
  • England’s victory at Lords was their first since 1934; Andrew Flintoff’s five for 92 was only his fourth five-wicket haul in first-class cricket.
  • Jonathan Trott became the 18th English player to score a century on Debut at The Oval.
  • 4 of the 5 top run scorers were Australian; Andrew Strauss topped the run scoring charts with 474 at 52.67.
  • The top 3 leading wicket takers were Australian (Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

‘Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography’


Sourcing my ‘fix’ of sport has been a largely unrewarding and mutating process during lockdown. From re-watching English domestic cricket finals, to playing badminton in the garden and mulling over downloading Football Manager, I’ve sought a number of outlets. Last week I was pleased to stumble across Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, hidden away at the back of my shelves. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, but the book promised, at the very least, a temporary respite during these sport-barren times. 

A highlight was the focus on the signings Sir Alex made during his tenure as Manchester United manager. A range of vague names from the past crop up: Kleberson, Male Biram Diouf and Alexander Büttner to name but a few. Sir Alex explains his reasons for signing each player, citing their strengths and weaknesses, and commenting on how they could improve his current squad. He emphasises the importance of both rebuilding and forward planning in maintaining a team that could continually challenge for the Premier League title; we are told, for example, that centre backs Jonny Evans and Phil Jones were viewed well in advance as the natural successors to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. 

Some of the most intimate details are also linked to transfers. United’s troubled dealings with Daniel Levy and Tottenham when signing Micheal Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov defer them from pursuing Luka Modric at a later date: a real shame for a Manchester United fan. Whole chapters are dedicated to Sir Alex’s relationship with high-profile players during his reign: Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand. Beckham is painted as a precociously talented and dedicated academy prospect who, influenced by fame and other external factors, fails to live up to expectation and become a club great. Much like Beckham, Van Nistelrooy becomes a destabilising force in the dressing room and is expelled for challenging Sir Alex’s authority. The recurring message is: no player is bigger than the club. 

‘The only aspect he was ever interested in was: how many goals did Ruud van Nistelrooy score”

Intimate details are however at a premium. Reading the autobiography, I had the sense that Sir Alex was barely scratching the surface. Much of the information and events alluded to are already in the public domain. The structure also compromised the flow of the narrative. Within each chapter, Sir Alex would repeatedly go off topic for a few pages, and then sharply return to his original point or story. In fairness, blame surely falls to the editor here. This is an easy read and the content is digestible, but it’s not so much an exposé as a recap, and rarely reaches a level of complexity or insight that makes it a worthwhile venture. 

Yesterday I ordered two new books: Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (another on the bucket list) and Uwe Schutte’s Kraftwerk: Future Music From Germany. The reviews I’ve read indicate that Schutte analyses Kraftwerk as a phenomenon permeating and influencing various forms of cultural representation (music, graphic design, cinematography), and so I’m particularly excited to get stuck in.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

The Loss of Cricket in the English Summer

Sports all around the world have been greatly affected by the current global pandemic, perhaps none more so than cricket, traditionally played in England from late April until the end of Summer. A scheduled tour to Sri Lanka has already been cancelled and a home test series against West Indies in May is much in doubt. On the domestic circuit, the first seven rounds of the County Championship have been postponed, and in all likelihood, The Hundred will not debut this summer. But the effects are more widespread, with the ECB banning all forms of recreational cricket until further notice. 

Village cricketers all across the country will be devoid of the opportunity to take a five-for on a green pitch in April; those who bat low down the order and are never entrusted by their captains to bowl will go without the glorious teas that revitalise them following yet another fated duck; the aged spectators will miss the chance to sit in the shade and admire the beauty of their local cricket ground. As an (average) cricket player and fan myself, I share their frustrations. No post-game pints in our hospitable local pub, late evening net sessions on the square or banter in the slip cordons. No trips to Lords, games of bowls around the boundary rope and homemade scones.

Despite our shared sadness at the potential loss of a whole season of cricket, it is rewarding to witness how the cricket community has responded to the difficulties posed by Covid-19. The England captain, Joe Root, has remained transparent and open with media when asked about the potential changes to player salaries. All centrally contracted players have voluntarily pledged to donate 20% of their wages for the next six months to help the game and the wider community. Counties have taken an active role in volunteering; just today, I saw a photo Essex captain, Simon Harmer, preparing meals for NHS workers. The First XI captain at my club has organised an excellent online quiz for members to enjoy and our social media account has been advertising the takeaway food our post-game pub has on offer. It seems, at least, that the essential spirit of the game is living on. 

With the summer of cricket we experienced last year – highlights including: England winning a home World Cup, Ben Stokes single-handedly saving the 3rd Ashes Test at Headingley and another thrilling T20 Finals Day – we at least have some fantastic memories to revisit and savour during these troubling times.