*My favourite player series is where we ask you to tell us who your favourite player is, why they're your favourite player and your best memory. This is a brand new series that is open to anyone and everyone, so if you're interested, get in touch on Twitter. Without further ado here is Dave with his favourite player. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @dave_wood104
They say you never quite get over your first love. For this cricket-mad boy growing up in provincial Northwest England, there could only have ever been one: Michael Andrew Atherton.
I never stood a chance – he had everything. He was local, he was an opening batsman, he was the first person appointed England captain in my memory… he bowled occasional legspin! I was hooked and, to a large extent, I owe my love of the game to Mike Atherton. Even as a child I think I recognised that there was something different about Atherton. He didn’t ooze the class of Gower, didn’t dominate the bowling like Gooch, didn’t have the timing and grace of Hick or Ramprakash or the swagger of Stewart. Yet I was still captivated. The way he handled himself, the pure bloody-minded determination, the mind-over-matter, the understated pride with which he took to the captaincy – it was enthralling. He was talented, but his determination ensured he got every ounce out of that talent. There was no better manifestation of Atherton’s personality than his 185* at Johannesburg in 1995, during which he repelled all comers for over 10 hours and nearly 500 balls.
Atherton’s legend was truly confirmed for me in 1998 with his epic battle against Alan Donald at Trent Bridge. No longer captain, he still recognised the danger posed by Donald that evening and knew he was the only man for the task, prioritising survival over run scoring for the good of the team. For the first time I understood that the art of batting is so much more than the number in the runs column. There’s a delicious irony in him finishing unbeaten on 98, with Graeme Thorpe hitting the winning runs. Not that that would have mattered to him.
There’s a flawed brilliance to his overall test record, too. A career average of 37.49 doesn’t even begin to explain his worth. In a golden era of fast bowling (Donald, Ambrose, Wasim, Waqar – not to mention Ambrose and McGrath, who dismissed him 17 and 19 times respectively) Atherton too often the sole resistance – the wicket cherished above all others by the opposition. Add in his battles with Shane Warne, who dismissed him a further 10 times, and there’s an argument that, given the relative lack of support, no England batsman has had it tougher – he’d disagree of course, but that only adds to mystique.