England had clawed their way back into the contest riding a 162-run partnership between Root (89) and Dawid Malan (82) but they collapsed on Saturday, losing eight wickets to suffer a heavy defeat at the Gabba in Brisbane.
“If you look at England in the last dozen Tests… they’ve become so reliant on Root,” Atherton, who captained England in 54 Tests, wrote in his column for Sky Sports.
“And if England are going to do well in Australia, you’d think he’s going to have to have a productive series, but he needs others around him to support him as well.
“Malan batted well … but England’s batting in both innings, other than that one partnership, was poor and that’s going to cost them. They were completely under-prepared, and I have a lot of sympathy for them in this regard.
“There is the COVID pandemic which has necessitated the kind of schedule they had but then the torrential rains in Queensland just knocked out the minimal preparation they had been given or had given themselves.”
Former England captain Alastair Cook agreed that wet weather during the build-up to the game had not helped.
“You could say that Australia have endured similar issues but that’s not quite true,” Cook wrote in The Sunday Times.
“We had some figures on BT Sport which showed that since the end of the English summer, their batsmen had faced about 3,600 balls in competitive cricket, while England’s top order had faced less than a quarter of that.”