Michael Atherton

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
A chemistry teacher with a competitive streak coached this cricketer to future England glory
A chemistry teacher with a competitive streak coached this cricketer to future England glory

Looking back over my first-class cricket career, which spanned 14 years playing for the University of Cambridge, Lancashire and England, it is difficult to quantify how much of a role one specific person had over the way that it developed. There were many different influences, from the early teachings of my father, Alan, to the prominent coaches that I encountered along the way, and I would hesitate to pick only one.

What was crucial, though, was having the opportunity to play cricket regularly, in decent surroundings and with appropriate facilities, especially at the beginning of my career.

Few places where I lived offered better resources than the Manchester Grammar School, a fantastically successful educational institution; a little inner-city oasis, towards the south of the city. And the facilitator for all of this was David Moss, a Yorkshireman and my former cricket master who, even 20 years on, is continuing to maintain the school's strong sports tradition and reputation. He was a guiding hand to me for five to six years.

David, a tall, slim individual, then in his late twenties, was always perfectly attired in a suit. He was a chemistry teacher by trade - a subject that never left much of an impression on me. Despite lacking great sporting pedigree and a specialised cricketing knowledge, his enthusiasm for sport, and encouragement to his pupils, was evident.

He was the coach, a presumably unpaid position, of the school's leading cricket and football teams. It was clearly an enjoyable part of his extra curricular activities, and he instilled a competitive streak in all of his players.

Not only did Mark Crawley and Gary Yates, contemporaries of mine, eventually play cricket professionally for Lancashire but, I believe, the school's talented first XI was beaten only once in five or six seasons in cricket, while the football team went 90-odd matches under his tutelage without losing.

When I was 13 years old, David gave me a chance in the senior first team, against 15 and 16-year-olds, primarily then as a leg spinner. Batting at number nine in the order, I took three wickets. Forgetting my obvious physical disadvantage, I proved that I could handle myself.

While David was important in presenting me with an opportunity to play, it was John Shoard, my former history teacher, who was inspirational in my subsequent academic path. His tireless energy and passion for his subject was the reason I chose to read history at Cambridge. But I feel a bit of a fraud in this matter, if I'm honest. The choice was between modern history and medieval history. I went for the latter. Why? That course didn't seem to have a massive workload, thus enabling me to devote more time to my cricket.

- Michael Atherton, 40, is a former England cricket captain, who was recently appointed as chief cricket correspondent of The Times. He also commentates for Sky Sports, which will show live coverage of all England's Test, One-Day International and Twenty20 matches against New Zealand and South Africa this summer. He was talking to Rob Maul.

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