Sport

Josh de Caires: Michael Atherton’s son on following in his father’s footsteps

Josh de Caires: Michael Atherton's son on following in his father's footsteps thumbnail
De Caires has played for Middlesex since under-10 level

When a teenage university student scores a hundred against a county side, at best a few eyebrows are raised.

When that teenager is the son of a former England captain, the cricket world takes notice.

Whispers grow louder. Social media whirs.

Last month, 18-year-old Josh de Caires – son of ex-England batsman Michael Atherton – scored 118 against Yorkshire for Leeds-Bradford Universities. A sport that loves nothing more than a bit of nostalgia was given its latest dose.

“Someone asked me if I bat similar to him,” De Caires tells BBC Sport. “I couldn’t tell you for the life of me. I have hardly ever seen him bat!

“From what I have seen he just blocks the crap out of it, which is pretty similar to me.”

De Caires, born eight months after Atherton’s final Test, faced 292 balls at Headingley.

Yorkshire’s full-strength pace attack, albeit building up fitness in a pre-season friendly, was thwarted for six hours. The comparisons to a father who ground his way through the 1990s and into the hearts of a nation were obvious.

“We are both slightly stubborn,” De Caires says. “That might be the only thing that I got from him.

“I have not stared at hours of footage of him and thought ‘this is going to be me’.

“I probably am more old-fashioned. I’m not a massive lad so I don’t belt the ball out of the park.

“I like to think I am a slightly more versatile than 100 in 290 balls all of the time. We will wait and see, I guess.”

De Caires has always been highly rated. Like Atherton, he is a technically sound, right-handed, top-order batsman. He is strong off his pads and on the cut and pull.

His breakthrough innings may have been slow but he is targeting a place in the Middlesex team across all formats.

By the age of nine De Caires was representing the county’s youth teams and at 15 made his debut for the second XI. Last year they signed him on a three-year deal, his first professional contract.

“Maybe people look at you slightly differently, thinking you should automatically be able to do certain things and be slightly better because your old man was quite good, but I have never felt that massively and he has never piled that on me,” De Caires says.

“I haven’t felt a massive amount of pressure from others, and I put a fair amount of pressure on myself anyway.

“I can’t speak for him, but it feels like he has made a conscious effort not to force me in one direction.

“I enjoyed beach cricket and backyard cricket but he has stayed out of the way massively.

“I have just picked up cricket because I enjoy watching it and enjoy playing it.”

At no point does De Caires shy away from talking about his father. He is well spoken, keenly answering each question that comes his way. He jokes that the “freezing” temperatures during a recent game in Leeds were a “stark introduction to cricket up north”.

Even a snow shower during the interview – we meet a few hundred yards from his shared student accommodation – does not dampen his eagerness.

De Caires played his youth cricket at Radlett in Hertfordshire

De Caires is his mother’s maiden name – his mother, Isabelle, is the granddaughter of Frank de Caires, who played three Tests for West Indies in the 1930s.

The assumption has been made that De Caires wanted to avoid any pressure of the Atherton name, but in truth it is a much more straightforward story.

“I took my mum’s name at birth,” he says. “I have no clue and I have never asked my parents why.

“I have always been happy with it and I have never really been bothered enough to ask.”

Like Atherton, who studied history at Cambridge University, De Caires opted to continue in education rather than throw himself into cricket full-time at the earliest opportunity.

“That is actually one of the only things he has pushed me towards – to not tunnel vision yourself towards cricket. Broaden your mind, get a degree, find interests elsewhere and that will help your cricket,” says De Caires, who admits he still “can’t cook”.

Playing for England is the long-term ambition, but for now a business economics degree is the most pressing issue while also aiming for regular county cricket.

“Anyone in a similar position would say England is the ultimate goal,” De Caires says.

“There is a very long way before that and a very long way before I am involved at Middlesex in all three formats.

“It would be nice to have something to fall back on and not be completely screwed if I don’t do well in cricket.

“That really helps me, taking the pressure off myself.

“While I am driven and want to do well in my career, it is not the be all and end all if I don’t.”

Three days after the Yorkshire friendly, Leeds-Bradford faced a Warwickshire side which included England opener Dom Sibley and Ashes-winning seamer Tim Bresnan.

De Caires made 30 before he “managed to nick a rank ball”.

“That is the game,” he says.

Against Yorkshire he shared a stand of 270 with opener Taylor Cornall, who may have drawn more attention for his 142 on another day.

“It was really funny,” De Caires says. “Taylor, who scored more runs at a better rate than me, was mentioned on Twitter and someone got his name wrong.

“There was me who scored less runs at a lot slower rate and I was on BBC News and all that.”

Despite the task at hand, the pair managed to stay remarkably relaxed.

“Taylor was trying to get me into Line of Duty and was thoroughly disappointed when I told him I hadn’t watched it,” De Caires said.

“I started series one that night and am now a hefty way through, which is probably not good for my degree.

“When we were talking about cricket we were on to each other about not breaking before the bowlers – make it count and be really stubborn.”

Those final words – “stubborn” and “make it count” – sound familiar…

Atherton scored 7,728 runs at an average of 37.69 in 115 Tests between 1989 and 2001

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