Mike Atherton: The week that changed a cricketer's life

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The Independent Online
Saturday

2.30 A television camera catches Atherton taking his right hand out of his pocket and then rubbing the ball. It is unnoticed in the press box, but the TV commentator Tony Lewis sees it while the BBC are broadcasting the 2.35 from Ascot and asks his director to save the footage for replay when live coverage resumes.

2.54 Delay for treatment to Kepler Wessels allows time to re-run the clip. Fortuitously, it is preceded by live images of Atherton doing the same thing to the ball. Mervyn Kitchen, the third umpire, sees the incident on television and radios Dickie Bird and Steve Randell to get them to examine the ball after each over to check for tampering. He also alerts Peter Burge, the match referee.

6.06 Close of play. Ray Illingworth inspects Atherton's trousers.

7.0 Peter Burge meets the three umpires, Atherton (who takes along his trousers) and Keith Fletcher, the England manager.

8.05 Leaving Lord's, Atherton says: 'Everything's fine.'

8.35 Richard Little, the TCCB's press liaison officer, returns to reporters with Burge's statement that despite the appearance of 'unfamiliar actions' he was satisfied that 'nothing untoward' had occurred and that no action would be taken.

Sunday

Sunday paper sports pages all lead on the story, including still pictures taken from TV. Illingworth and Atherton confer and face the press after England's defeat. Atherton apologises, and admits that he had soil in his pocket which he used to dry his hands before rubbing the ball. He also admits that he did not tell Burge on evening about the soil. Illingworth announces that he is fining Atherton the maximum pounds 1,000 on each of two counts: for not telling the truth to Burge and for having soil in his pocket. He admits not knowing whether the second charge is actually an offence under the laws of cricket. Little announces that the match referee will make a statement on the following day.

Monday

The Times and Daily Telegraph lead their front pages with the story. Atherton attends an England photo session and then goes to Cumbria with his girlfriend. Burge's statement proposes no further sanction but calls Atherton's actions 'foolish in the extreme'.

Tuesday

A Times leader says that Atherton should go; Jonathan Agnew, BBC cricket correspondent, says the same on Radio 5 Live and in the Daily Express; the Sun offers 20 free packets of Athers Soil - 'No more sweaty palms'. The TCCB chairman, Ossie Wheatley, shows support: 'If someone does something thoughtless it should not destroy a promising career as this seems to be in danger of doing.' Atherton rings a friend to say he isn't reading the papers.

Wednesday

Atherton reported to have 'told friends' that he will not resign. In the morning he phones Illingworth, who says: 'I'll back him to hilt.'

Thursday

Illingworth says Atherton will probably have to make a further explanation. There is support for Atherton from M J K Smith, the England team manager in the West Indies, and Frank Chamberlain, the TCCB chairman.

Friday

The Sun publishes pictures of Atherton and his girlfriend leaving their hotel in Grange-Over-Sands. A lunchtime press conference is convened at Old Trafford. Atherton says he is not going to resign, insists that he did not alter the ball's condition and apologises for lying to Burge.

The selection committee - including Atherton and Illingworth - meet to pick the team for the second Test at Headingley, starting on Thursday. The tabloids lead their back pages with Tottenham Hotspur's latest pounds 2m purchase.

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