One played 115 times for his country and is the cricket correspondent of The Times. The other is a member of Motley Crue and once accidentally shot his own girlfriend. One published an autobiography in which he revealed that he didn't like Raymond Illingworth. The other published an autobiography in which he revealed that he believed in aliens. One has a child named after a guitar, Les Paul. It's unlikely that the other has a son called Gray-Nicolls.
There is however some common ground between Michael Andrew Atherton, 43, of Failsworth, Lancashire, and Robert Alan Deal [no, Mick Mars is not his real name], 60, of Los Angeles California. When the histories of their respective occupations are written, neither will quite inhabit the upper echelons frequented by great men, yet both have had their moments too. Athers, for example, resisted Alan Donald for 12 hours in Johannesburg. And Mick Mars wrote Girls, Girls, Girls.
And then there is ankylosing spondylitis, an auto-immune form of arthritis that affects the spine. Yesterday it was announced that researchers have isolated the genetic mutation that causes the disease, which has impacted the lives and careers of both Athers and Mick Mars.
Atherton wrote in yesterday's Times about the discovery [unfortunately it's behind lovely Rupert's paywall] and about how the condition imposed itself on his game. By the age of twenty he was suffering badly enough for him to undergo special exercise and treatment, and he played with it throughout his career. It was usually referred to as 'a bad back', which is somewhat understating the case. Athers is one of life's stoics, but in addition to putting up with Ray Illingworth, Glenn McGrath, Wasim and Waqar, Brian Lara, the press and just 31 wins in those 115 games, it's no surprise that his increasingly hunched, purse-lipped, white-faced presence at the crease appeared to offer him so little pleasure.
Mick Mars' suffering was somewhat overwhelmed by the gargantuan feats of debauchery that Motley Crue fessed up to in their book The Dirt, but in one memorable passage he refers to ankylosing spondylitis as 'a grey ghost' that he he imagined hovering over his body, causing it to gradually lock up. His spine has fused and he is now three inches shorter than he was as a young man. He has had a double hip replacement, which has eased pain so debilitating he once tried to kill himself by walking out into the sea.
After Athers was caught rubbing dirt on the ball in 1995, the The Times accused their future correspondent of 'failing to uphold the values to which his society aspires'. He had to endure Jimmy Tarbuck calling for his resignation. In his next innings he made 99, and in his press conference quoted Roosevelt: 'It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled ... The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena; whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood.'
Both Atherton and Mick Mars have managed that, although Athers would probably accept that a little mild ribbing is due given that he has jumped the fence and become an occasionally caustic critic himself. He wrote yesterday that he hoped the new research meant future generations of Athertons would not have to go through the same thing. Let's hope they can bat though. Or write Girls, Girls, Girls.
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