1, had Atherton played at the current time he'd probably have averaged 45-50. If Matthew Hayden can average nearly 50 Atherton certainly could. Had Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick faced the calibre of bowling and catching on show in the 1990s they'd probably struggle to average 30.
2, Atherton is a perfect example of why judging someone on the banal ledger of overall-average is so utterly stupid. His average is not an accurate reflection of his career. He was brought in prematurely, slipped a bit towards the end of his career, and had 2 series which meant absolutely nothing as he was playing half-fit. Knock-out these series (and it's utterly fair to do so, because they're meaningless as far as the vast majority of his career is concerned) and he averaged 41.55 from 97 Tests, which is STILL as good as Trescothick (not including Bangladesh games) even though the standard of bowling and catching Trescothick has faced bears no resemblance whatsoever to that which Atherton did.
Err, it's the fault of those stupid enough to organise and count one-off Tests as series (not ICC, combination of the ECB and Wisden).Considering one off tests or not, being bottom is being bottom, we still played those one off tests and lost.. not the iccs fault!
That's totally different to losing a series.