- Root steps down as England captain after disappointing tours of Australia and the Caribbean
- Root says the role took a heavy toll on him lately
- Stokes tipped as the favourite to be next captain
Joe Root, an England test captain, said the job had taken a dangerous toll on him recently, following dismal tours of Australia and the Caribbean.
England have won just one of their previous 17 tests, and the pressure had increased on Root even before their 1-0 series defeat by the West Indies last month, which came on the back of a 4-0 Ashes series defeat by Australia.
Atherton and Nasser Hussain, former England captains, were among those who claimed that Root might have resigned.
"I have decided to step down as England men's test captain after returning from the Caribbean tour, and having had time to reflect," Root said in a statement issued by the England board (ECB).
"It has been the most challenging decision I have had to make in my career, but after discussing this with my family and those closest to me, I realize that the timing is correct."
Root led England in a record 64 tests since he became Alastair Cook's successor in 2017. His 27 wins and 26 defeats as captain are also records.
"I'm extremely pleased to have taken control of my country and I'll look back on the previous five years with immense pride," Root added.
"I have loved leading my country, but recently it has touched home how much of a impact it has taken on me, and the effects it has had on me away from the game."
ATHERTON 'NOT SURPRISED'
Root, who said in late March that he would continue as captain, is England's second-highest test run-scorer of all time, behind Cook and his tally of 5,295 runs, the largest by an England captain.
Ben Stokes, who was Root's deputy, has been tipped as a potential replacement for the next captain, while renowned bowler Stuart Broad has been the second person to be a favorite.
"I anticipate giving my teammate and coach to assist the next captain, in whatever way I can," Root said.
Atherton said that Root's decision to step down was not surprised and that Stokes was the "obvious" choice.
"It had just reached a stage at the end of the Ashes, even before the West Indies tour, where it was quite clear that something was going to happen," Atherton told Sky Sports.
"There's a moment in every England captain's life in which you realize you've given everything and you can't do anything more," he added.
"Ben Stokes is extremely loyal to Joe, and he will feel much easier about going to work if offered given that Root stepped down of his own way."
Following Ashley Giles' departure, the ECB is working on a finding a new managing director and men's head coach.
ECB Chief Executive Tom Harrison said Root had been "an exceptional role model" during his five-year tenure.
"I know that every individual who has played or worked under Joe's captaincy will speak of his honesty and humility as a person, as well as his determination and conviction as a leader."