BOOK OF THE WEEK; A man of honesty and honour

Athers - The Authorised Biography of Michael Atherton by David Norrie (Headline, pounds 17.99)
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The Independent Online
There are one or two novel ideas. The first is the fact that it reads like a Boy's Own Story, from child prodigy to dedicated pro in a few easy bounds. Except that it is all hard - and interesting fact. The second is the fact that at the end of each chapter the author, a respected cricket correspondent, allows Atherton to have his say.

The italicised passages are rarely very long, but they are frequently pithy. They daub the wattle of objective facts with insight and real feeling. There are few photographs - a relief, since it means you do not interrupt the flow of narrative to flip through them - but plenty of gossip.

All the gen on all those highlights and low points of the England captain's career.

An authorised biography is probably the best way for any player in any sport to have a pop at authority without facing a charge of bringing the game into disrepute. Atherton's italics are more earnest than frank.

Athers may aim the gun, but it is Norrie who pulls the trigger. And he invariably finds the mark.

Pretty well everything is discussed. This is Michael Atherton OBE, warts and all. But while Norrie likens Atherton to Hamlet perhaps a more accurate Skakespearean analogy might be the well-worn one of Lear, "a man more sinned against than sinning." Because in cricket's fairground, Atherton's captaincy has been more roller coaster than merry-go-round.

When he's up, he's up; but when he's down he tends to bottom out.

The infant years make interesting reading. Already the man could be seen in the young boy who played with a such a straight bat and created history at Manchester Grammar School by playing for the first XI while he was still in the second form.

Generally this is a well researched and thoughtfully written book. The fact that Atherton, on his own admission, has not yet read it should not be taken as an attempt to distance himself from it. He collaborated with Norrie, as did his family and colleagues; the book was written with his blessing.

And it contains all the prerequisites of a good sporting biography, an index, a comprehensive statistical section with interesting and thoughtful breakdowns of his captaincy and career. Out of this Atherton emerges as a man of honour and honesty. You are left with the impression that he loves his cricket and enjoys captaincy, but that despite his abilities out in the middle, he is a man who prefers to hang around the boundary of life, leaning against a wall and watching the world. But it will still be fascinating to see if he fleshes out the bones of the various contentious issues if and when he decides to produce an autobiography at the end of his career - whenever that may be.

David Llewellyn

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