When Mike Atherton was run-out for 99 – was this the worst ‘no’ in the history of cricket?

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The most powerful ‘no’ in film is the one in Rise of the Planet of the Apes when Caesar reveals that he is far more than a “damn dirty ape”.

It happens a surprisingly long way into the film, which allows for quite a lot of emotional build-up. It’s well-timed too, coming in response to the guy who’s a towering twunt behaving at his most toweringly twunty.

It also references one of the most memorable lines in cinema.

You don’t really get the full sense of it from watching the clip in isolation, but it’s quite a moment. It’s great how even the music is dumbstruck by him saying it.

The worst ‘no’ in film is unquestionably the one from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

Not everything that happened in the summer of 2005 made the most of its rich and lengthy back story. The whole Star Wars saga revolves around this one moment: it’s such a key moment, you’ve been building up to it for almost 30 years and this is the best you can do?

The funniest ‘no in film is also the one from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, for exactly the same reasons. It’s maybe the best cinematic joke of all. You’ve got to respect how much time, effort and commitment went into setting up that bathetic punchline and how perfectly it was delivered.

‘No’ is an important word.

If you were trying to think of the worst ‘no’ in cricket, you may well alight upon the run-out that ended Mike Atherton’s innings at Lord’s in the second Test of the 1993 Ashes, which somehow managed to have the impact of Caesar’s ‘no’ alongside the bathos of Anakin Skywalker’s.

If you’re not really sure what we’re on about, let’s have a quick recap.

A quick recap

Sometimes when you look back on 1990s England cricket, it’s amazing how closely it matches your memories of it. We tend to assume that this period wasn’t quite as bad as we remember it – but then as often as not, it turns out it was.

In the first Test of the 1993 Ashes, Graham Gooch was the only England batsman to pass 50 in either innings, Mike Gatting was on the receiving end of the Ball of the Century and England lost by 179 runs. Gooch was out handled the ball in the second innings.

In the second Test, Australia won the toss and Mark Taylor (111) and Michael Slater (152) put on 260 for the first wicket.

David Boon (164 not out) and Mark Waugh (99) then put on 175 for the third wicket and Allan Border (77) and Boon put on an unbeaten 139 for the fourth.

Australia declared on 632-4.

Despite losing Craig McDermott to a twisted bowel(!) and having to open the bowling with Mark Waugh, they bowled England out for 205 and enforced the follow-on.

It’s probably worth dwelling on several elements of that previous sentence and also on how those elements interact with each other because this almost certainly says something about England cricket during this period. But let’s not do that. Let’s not even begin to do that.

In England’s second innings, Gooch and Atherton put on 71 before Atherton and Gatting put together a century partnership.

Then Mike Atherton got run out on 99.

And that’s the thing we’re talking about here.

“Those few yards are going to live with him forever,” said Tony Lewis on commentary as the replay paused with Athers on his hands and knees, stumps splayed in front of him. “Staring at a century and staring at his own demise.”

A bad ‘no’. The worst ‘no’?

“We were trying to save the Test and were going along nicely,” Gatting told The Cricketer. “AB brought himself on to a fairly defensive field, just trying to do something different. Merv was messing around with the crowd at deep square leg.

“Mike hit it in front of square and Merv ran around. In Mike’s mind there was three and he went like a train, but I was late leaving my end. There was no way I could get to the other end so I said no. He went back but slipped and then slipped again. I watched on in horror.

“It’s never good to run someone out but we were trying to save the match, and I was hugely disappointed he then never made a hundred at Lord’s.”

The way Gatting describes it, Atherton was hell-bent on reaching his hundred and didn’t make allowances for Mike Gatting being Mike Gatting.

So that doesn’t seem like a bad ‘no’ really. It seems like a bad ‘yes’.

But here’s the footage.

It strikes us that Atherton looked very uncertain about that third run when he turned and he only actually set off because he saw Gatt coming.

The replay that shows it clearest is the last one. Look at his feet. This is not a batsman who’s turning. This is a batsman who’s stopped running.

What you can’t see in a still is the nanosecond of hand movement that takes place at this moment.

While he’s standing in this position, flat-footed, and before anything else happens, Atherton’s free hand starts to rise. It starts to rise at Gatting.

The hand is saying ‘no’ or at the very least ‘wait’. But just as it is trying to say this, something happens that makes the rest of Atherton set off running again.

That something is Mike Gatting saying ‘yes’.

“Mike Gatting called me for the run that would have brought up my 100, then sent me back,” said Atherton. “I slipped and was yards short when Ian Healy broke the stumps. I was desperate to get a century, to get on the Lord’s honours board and desperate to help England save a Test.”

So this wasn’t the worst ‘no’ of all time because like all tremendously memorable run-outs, it started with a ‘yes’.

It’s the yeses that get you.

The bigger picture

It’s also worth pointing out that this run-out was only really devastating in the very short-term.

England lost by an innings and 62 runs, so it’s not like it affected the outcome of the match (even if they did get a surprisingly long way into day five). You’ve also got to think that getting run out for 99 is surely preferable to getting run out for 0. Isn’t it?

It wasn’t exactly a Sliding Doors moment in Atherton’s career either.

Together with his 80 in the first innings, the 99 secured his place in the side after a spell of injury and poor form.

Two Tests later, he was made captain (after the series was lost) and he immediately led England to victory at the Oval, which was their first win against Australia in 18 matches, running all the way back to the 1986 Boxing Day Test. Atherton would go on to play 54 matches as captain before becoming one of the very best commentators around.

As for Gatting, these days he’s “cricket ambassador” for the MCC, because apparently no-one cares that he once led an unofficial England team on a tour of South Africa at a time when no-one was allowed to tour there because it was a racially-segregated white supremacist nation.

Further reading: The Awkwardest Squad: Why the 96/97 “flippin’ murdered ’em” tour of Zimbabwe was peak 90s England (a net bowler’s story)

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20 comments

      1. Only very slightly reassuring, KC. You merely getting it up on a Sunday seems, to us regular followers, as exertion beyond your regular call of duty. Is this where the Patreon business is leading you? Feels slippery-slopeish to me.

        Still, it is a delicious piece and a lovely read. I had no idea that Gatt perceived the mishap to be mostly self-inflicted by young Atherton. Strangely, Daisy and I had been discussing cog-diss in the matter of Gatt only the previous day. He has done wonderful work for the game, not least grassroots cricket, for a quarter of a century…but there was that rebel tour.

        But Athers is not on that honours board, nor indeed any honours board at Lord’s. And unless Athers takes up real tennis, I am now far more likely to end up with my name on a Lord’s honours board than Athers.

        Noooooooo.

      2. We could alternatively plead that we no longer know what day it is.

        Gatt is not all bad, but it does feel like English cricket is too happy to forget about some things.

      3. Ged, surely if you make it onto the Lord’s (Real Tennis) Honours Board, you are bound by (ahem) honour to change your name by Deed Poll to one of Michael Atherton, Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar in order to Right Historical Wrongs?

      4. If the sequencing works that way around, APW, (i.e. if you change your name post hoc, the name on the honours board is changed), then perhaps we can persuade Mike Gatting to change his name to Ian Harris by deed poll.

        That way I for sure get my name on an honours board (my real tennis efforts are far from certain to yield honours board glory)…

        …while righting the historical wrong of a rebel tour leader’s name being on a Lord’s honours board.

      5. I had envisaged that the likely time taken for the administration of board updates would allow the timeline of events to be:

        (1) Achieve noteworthy feat
        (2) Change name
        (3) Name is added to honours board

        Perhaps the board is updated too efficiently to allow for this. If so, you should perhaps consider a pre-emptive name change if you feel a noteworthy feat is in the offing.

      6. Merely getting it up on a Sunday becomes more of a challenge with every passing year, I’m discovering.

    1. We went through all this Don Logan/Ben Kingsley business in the context of Stuart Broad a few weeks ago:

      https://www.kingcricket.co.uk/is-stuart-broad-the-most-annoying-cricketer-theres-ever-been/2020/07/28/

      Ben Kingsley can’t have the most aggressively annoying character AND the most powerful “no”. It’s not like the Oscars where someone can sweep the board in all the categories, Sam. These awards need to be shared around.

      In any case, that clip shows extreme use of the multiple no. What KC is talking about is the powerful single no. KC should have been more precise in defining his terms there, but standards are sadly slipping everywhere in these unprecedented times.

    2. Thank you, KC, you have now defined your terms with sufficient precision. 😉

      Question for advanced students: in the matter of the infamous run out incident, did Gatting make Atherton look like a right c*** or did Atherton bestow that apparent quality upon Gatting?

  1. Little known fact; Oasis’ debut album is a concept album written in the aftermath of those Ashes, and was named for this event.

    Tufnell later acknowledged the connection when he chose the track they wrote for him as his walk-out music during the 1997 series in New Zealand.

    1. That’s excellent, and there are some older season review posts on that site to back the story up and fill some of the background in (some good stuff in there, including Shane Warne and James Sutherland, later boss of Cricket Australia) – just to pick out the Capel bits:

      https://www.lowerhousecc.com/my-take-on-1991-jez-hope-2/

      “My own story from this is about David Capel. He turned up and straight away was so friendly and almost humbled to be playing. He was very impressed with the ground (we were away!) and the player’s attitude. He asked more questions about our players before the game started than anyone else that year!! I lost the toss and ‘Carrots’ (Paul Garaghty) decided to bat first. I’ve played cricket against and with Carrots since we were around 13 and for many years played in the same football team at Belvedere, it’s always good to catch up with him. He was looking forward to playing against Capel and is someone any side would target as getting out early.

      It was a nice warm day and Capel said to me as he took the new ball that he would like to bowl 3 spells. I was a bit gutted as I thought he could be left at one end to bowl 23 overs and leave the other 23 to us. But hay hum let’s see how it goes. They got off to a decent start and Capel bowled quick and accurate. We got their openers in close succession and Scuderi and Carrots came in, Scud was wearing a helmet but Carrots wasn’t. Capel had obviously seen that me and Blez were good mates with him and asked me why he wasn’t wearing a helmet? I said he was a good player and he didn’t usually wear one. I think Capel thought Carrots was being a smart a@?e but I said he was a good lad, Capel did say tell him to have a re-think. I told Carrots and he said he would be fine. Carrots didn’t get near the first 3 balls as they were aimed between his eyes and managed, at the last minute to get out of the way. Carrots then called for his helmet. Carrots went on to get a good 40 odd and Capel did bowl 3 spells with great variety and lightening pace when he bowled his quicker ball.

      We went into bat and Capel’s attitude was one of this will be easy! He had obviously not played with the curse of ‘Jools De Criq!!!!!’ (Another one of Stan’s theories) I asked him where he wanted to bat and he said let the amateurs bat and he will go in if needed. We lost our openers early and Whall joined Blez, I looked at Capel and he started putting his pads on and started to explain that we needed to take the game to them and not defend waiting to get out. This is obviously a ploy in County cricket but who did he mean to play this role for us? Low and behold Whal got out and Capel went in and smacked it everywhere. He got out late on but even we couldn’t lose this. Phil Astin joined Blez to see us home with 20 overs to spare. Paul is correct that Capel left us his collection, can’t remember how much it was but I don’t think there was any left at the end of the night!”

      https://www.lowerhousecc.com/66280-2/

      ” So to Seedhill, Nelson for a marvellous ending to this curious season. England all-rounder David Capel had come up from Northamptonshire and he bowled tightly taking 5-40 in 18 overs as the home side were dismissed for 138. After driving up on the day and bowling a long spell I’m sure Capel would have been thinking of putting his feet up for a while as he’d been stated to bat at 5. His feet weren’t rested for long at 12-3 he came into join Chris Bleazard to stop the early rot. It wasn’t quite Robert Haynes stuff but Capel played a great knock making 78 out of a 122 run partnership which ensured Lowerhouse an easy victory. He left his collection for the lads to have a drink and drove off forever a hero to us. Yet as fans what a fine margin we hold players to. Capel’s innings was almost faultless but early on he completely miss-hit a straight drive. It was a horrid shot but fell just short of long off. If he’d have been out and let us at 20-odd for 4 and almost certain doom, how would we have felt? That ten yards made the difference between Capel being a passing legend and completely irresponsible. Like I said, it’s a very fine line that sportsman tread. “

  2. That’s excellent, and there are some older season review posts on that site to back the story up and fill some of the background in (some good stuff in there, including Shane Warne and James Sutherland, later boss of Cricket Australia) – just to pick out the Capel bits:

    https://www.lowerhousecc.com/my-take-on-1991-jez-hope-2/

    “My own story from this is about David Capel. He turned up and straight away was so friendly and almost humbled to be playing. He was very impressed with the ground (we were away!) and the player’s attitude. He asked more questions about our players before the game started than anyone else that year!! I lost the toss and ‘Carrots’ (Paul Garaghty) decided to bat first. I’ve played cricket against and with Carrots since we were around 13 and for many years played in the same football team at Belvedere, it’s always good to catch up with him. He was looking forward to playing against Capel and is someone any side would target as getting out early.

    It was a nice warm day and Capel said to me as he took the new ball that he would like to bowl 3 spells. I was a bit gutted as I thought he could be left at one end to bowl 23 overs and leave the other 23 to us. But hay hum let’s see how it goes. They got off to a decent start and Capel bowled quick and accurate. We got their openers in close succession and Scuderi and Carrots came in, Scud was wearing a helmet but Carrots wasn’t. Capel had obviously seen that me and Blez were good mates with him and asked me why he wasn’t wearing a helmet? I said he was a good player and he didn’t usually wear one. I think Capel thought Carrots was being a smart a@?e but I said he was a good lad, Capel did say tell him to have a re-think. I told Carrots and he said he would be fine. Carrots didn’t get near the first 3 balls as they were aimed between his eyes and managed, at the last minute to get out of the way. Carrots then called for his helmet. Carrots went on to get a good 40 odd and Capel did bowl 3 spells with great variety and lightening pace when he bowled his quicker ball.

    We went into bat and Capel’s attitude was one of this will be easy! He had obviously not played with the curse of ‘Jools De Criq!!!!!’ (Another one of Stan’s theories) I asked him where he wanted to bat and he said let the amateurs bat and he will go in if needed. We lost our openers early and Whall joined Blez, I looked at Capel and he started putting his pads on and started to explain that we needed to take the game to them and not defend waiting to get out. This is obviously a ploy in County cricket but who did he mean to play this role for us? Low and behold Whal got out and Capel went in and smacked it everywhere. He got out late on but even we couldn’t lose this. Phil Astin joined Blez to see us home with 20 overs to spare. Paul is correct that Capel left us his collection, can’t remember how much it was but I don’t think there was any left at the end of the night!”

  3. Oh and Ian Austin appears earlier in this one! But just the Capel bit:

    https://www.lowerhousecc.com/66280-2/

    “So to Seedhill, Nelson for a marvellous ending to this curious season. England all-rounder David Capel had come up from Northamptonshire and he bowled tightly taking 5-40 in 18 overs as the home side were dismissed for 138. After driving up on the day and bowling a long spell I’m sure Capel would have been thinking of putting his feet up for a while as he’d been stated to bat at 5. His feet weren’t rested for long at 12-3 he came into join Chris Bleazard to stop the early rot. It wasn’t quite Robert Haynes stuff but Capel played a great knock making 78 out of a 122 run partnership which ensured Lowerhouse an easy victory. He left his collection for the lads to have a drink and drove off forever a hero to us. Yet as fans what a fine margin we hold players to. Capel’s innings was almost faultless but early on he completely miss-hit a straight drive. It was a horrid shot but fell just short of long off. If he’d have been out and let us at 20-odd for 4 and almost certain doom, how would we have felt? That ten yards made the difference between Capel being a passing legend and completely irresponsible. Like I said, it’s a very fine line that sportsman tread.”

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