Chris Knight reviews Mike Atherton’s Glorious Summers & Discontents (RRR £18.99), published by Simon & Schuster.
With his forthright opinions and engaging style, Mike Atherton rarely disappoints and this collection of his favourite pieces for The Telegraph, Times and Wisden Almanack provides readers with an invaluable reminder of the dramatic twists and turns that have affected cricket during the last 10 years.
The book is essentially a collection of the former England batsman’s published articles from the past decade, divided into two sections of ‘discontents’ and ‘glorious summers’. The chapters within the ‘discontents’ section touch upon the controversies and low points of cricket; from the Stanford affair to the upheaval of Twenty20 cricket and how the spot-fixing controversy shook the sport.
It is a telling and damning indictment of cricket, and cricket’s governing bodies in particular, that the underlying theme of the discontent articles is greed. Atherton covers the Hansie Cronje corruption scandal with his article entitled ‘Why the culture of greed has a vice-like grip’, and his strong opinions on the matter are forcefully argued and demand respect.
Atherton is damning about the ECB’s role in the Allen Stanford affair, “the ECB pawned the national team off for little more than a rich man’s ego trip”, although it is credit to him that his criticism is never purely for shock value or a quick headline.
That critical insight of course comes from 14 years of playing at the top level of cricket and unlike several of his fellow sportsman-turned- journalist peers, he rarely makes off-the-cuff statements. His writing is always well thought out and considered, with many of his forward-thinking articles proven correct over the course of time, not least his article regarding the appointment of Kevin Pietersen as England captain, which revealed a remarkably accurate fear that it would “end in tears”.
The second half of the book moves on to happier times as Atherton covers ‘glorious summers’ with a variety of chapters that include articles on foreign and English players, and it is perhaps in these articles where Atherton’s advantage of being a former player comes to the fore as he offers an insight into his own personal duels with the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Allan Donald.
The book serves as a reminder of the fact that there are few better commentators on the game, although that is not to say it is without fault. The format of the book as a collection of newspaper articles means it can be tough going at times and it is a brave person who attempts to read it cover to cover without putting it down.
Meanwhile, the book can often assume knowledge on the part of the reader, but this criticism is also in a sense a strength as the beauty of Atherton’s insightful articles are their ability to get you trawling the internet for statistics and scorecards; whether it is the bowling stats of Ajantha Mendis or England’s scorecard after their collapse to 51 all out against West Indies.
The thought provoking nature of Glorious Summers & Discontents is Atherton at his best and his collection of articles are an ideal companion for cricket lovers, particularly those England fans who want to relive the 2010/11 Ashes series as Atherton dedicates an entire chapter to the rise of the national side.