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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Objective, intelligent and dry, 12 Nov. 2004
This review is from: Opening Up: My Autobiography (Paperback)
Captain Grumpy was the nickname coined for Athers by the media during his tenure as England skipper. Though unshiftable at the crease, he was undemonstrative in the field and unforthcoming to the press. Watching him, one often wondered if he actually enjoyed playing cricket for England, moreover, one doubted he enjoyed captaining England. This autobiography serves to confirm both of those suppositions.

The book is utterly reflective of what is probably most English cricket fan's view Atherton's personality. He comes across as dispassionate and detached, honest and frank, self effacing and self critical but not self absorbed. There are consequently no fireworks in this book, no gossip, no melodrama, no long standing animosities, blazing rows, character assassinations, stirring vitriol or dewy eyed references to three lions. There are no highs or lows - the book is as flat and steady as the author's delivery in the commentator's box, similarly it's also spot on. This is good, but sometimes, like when he's describing the dirt in the pocket incident, or the Caligula-like posturing of Ray Illingworth, or the most memorable and electric period of cricket most of us have ever seen (versus Allan Donald at trent Bridge in 1998) you find yourself thirsting for some PASSION. The book is too downbeat to be very re-readable and earn the full 5 stars

He neither heaps praise nor damns people within cricket with flowery language or cliché. Instead he is utterly objective in his descriptions of people and his relationship with them; it seems irrelevant to him whether he personally 'liked' people, rather he defines them in terms of how much he respects their cricketing abilities - playing, coaching or organising. On his own abilities he is equally objective, though a little too humble in this reader's view - he is not afraid to state what he thinks his strengths were as a player and captain, but he dwells rather more on his failings.

You get the impression from the book that Atherton was an intelligent, thoughtful and reflective captain. He had a good cricket brain and was a confident and intuitive tactician who learnt from his mistakes. A voracious reader and keen cricket student, he had studied captaincy, including particularly Mike Brearley's work on the subject. His writing on the England captaincy, its difficulties, the role within the context of selection and team management, man management and the qualities of a good skipper make for very interesting reading. He was perhaps TOO thoughtful and intelligent to ever make a good skipper in the media's eye - he wasn't one for the banal or cosy soundbite.

You also get the impression that he was utterly dedicated, but had few close friends in cricket. In this he came across as very similar to Geoffrey Boycott, indeed he refers to Boycott throughout the book as a batting mentor and the echoes of Boycott in this book do not end there. His opinions on the state of English cricket and the relationship between county and Test cricket in this country are similar to Geoffrey's, and expressed just as forthrightly. Atherton confesses he cared little about statistics nor his place in the history of the game (which is of course the antithesis of Boycott, or so is the popular view), but like Boycott he just saw Test cricket as a personal test of his courage, concentration and technique - with him being his own ultimate judge. Like Boycott's autobiography, there is an overwhelming feeling that Atherton either was too consumed by succeeding at cricket to actually enjoy the game, or that his struggles against a bumbling and utterly inept institution, in the form of the England hierarchy, gradually wrung the love of the game out of him. He fought constant battles against elders with egoes in inverse proportion to their talent and with their own prejudices, agendas and petty jealousies. The most pleasure Atherton seemed to derive from international cricket was not the sport so much as the exposure to foreign cultures, into which he immersed himself as much as he could. Like Boycott, cliques, laddish socialising, striving to be liked and toeing the line were not for him.

In all it's a well written record of a recent low point in English cricket - a period of disorganisation and disunity before the advent of central contracts, as observed by a talented and honest young man caught up in the middle.
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Initial post: 9 Oct 2009 17:15:11 BDT
Ash says:
Thanks for a readable review and persuading me to purchase the book!
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