Yesterday Third Man hopes he began to demonstrate that one of England’s finest batsmen has been largely misunderstood – that his image hides some important truths about his batting and about us.
That image, possibly helped consciously along by Gower himself as a defence mechanism, was a product of the way his batting was seen from the boundary. Today, Third Man hopes to get behind the illusion that DG’s batting talent began to create and which his TV career has allowed to become embedded.
In batting, Gower started with some serious advantages. He had a marvellously trained eye. As hinted at in his article on Trescothic cited yesterday, Gower learnt to assess the lightly position of the bowlers release (and what the ball might do) from visual clues picked up as the bowler approached. This acute and informed vision, honed by hours of practice and experience, enabled him to decide quickly what needed to be done with the body.
Although another of the quotes from that article suggests that batsmen do not have to move much, Gower could move very quickly, which allowed him to move late and to get into position with apparent ease and convenience.
He must also have had an exact sense of balance (see photograph above)which provided the solid base from which weight can be transferred – a vital ingredient in good timing.
Gower also had the other ingredients of timing which bring different parts of the body into action at precisely the right instant to maximise bat speed and position at the moment of impact.
Great timers do not necessarily appear to have fast bat speed. Gower was in this illusory class and that is why his shots can appear ‘lazy’ by comparison to other batsmen.
For Gower and those others who time the ball in this fashion the down swing, the weight transfer, the tightening of fingers and movement of the wrist happen imperceptibly and in concert to impart enormous force with a high percentage of accuracy.
It looks to all the world as if they are stroking rather than hitting the ball but don’t be fooled, there is no mysterious and romantic force in the universe. If the ball goes to the boundary it is because it was propelled there forcefully.
Third Man wants also to stress that, although these skills are more normally picked up along the way often unconsciously by the very young, they are the product of practice. There is a feedback from the enjoyable feel of the finished shot which from an early age encourages the perfection of this skill.
We can see that Gower’s highly trained and perfectly executed sighting of the ball, speed and balance allied to consummate timing allows things to happen later than with batsmen who do not have these skills to the same degree.
Abilities such as these have a number of disadvantages, though. First and foremost, they can be misunderstood by the ‘crowd’, even by experienced coaches and by selectors and labelled as ‘loose’ or as evidence of a lack of effort and commitment.
They also remove some need for physical power. A batsman who develops these techniques to a high degree of skill will have done so early in their life. They may have developed them in another sport such as tennis before coming to cricket. When you can reach the boundary because of your timing skills there is less muscle power required and a lower incentive to spend time in a gym.
However, there is a further disadvantage within the brain itself which is just as dangerous. Good timers can get away with poor body position more than those with poorer timing capabilities. There is not the necessity to get those feet moving into the right place at the right time. Good timing can compensates for being slightly out of position.
Only as the player moves up the ladder or when he meets a very good bowler can this become apparent.
Good timers need therefore to be even harder on themselves about getting into the right position and building their muscles, speed and stamina if they are to maximize the value of the ability their years of work have given them. But often they don’t because the ease of early success produces the wrong psychology for this necessary application.
These are the foundations of Gower’s batting, of the way it was perceived by others and TM dares to say of his own self-perception.
There was nothing more pleasurable to the eye than seeing him when he succeeded. There is no sense of strain, no sense of effort, no disharmony. But cricket is a puritan game. It copes badly with apparent ease and lack of strain and absence of effort. The culture is keen to punish apparent idleness. It copes badly with a batsman like DG.
Mesmerized by a successful Gower shot or innings there is also a sense of guilt that this should not be so, should not be effortless, should not be rewarded. This sense of guilt at a vicarious self indulgence of valuing this almost magical performance can build itself into a lather and foment, that at the first sign of failure, of a miss hit, of a lost wicket, is released in a torrent of self-vindicating blame of the perpetrator and self-denying vindictiveness in the critic.
In the era of cricketing caution, orthodoxy and discipline in which Gower played it must have been a cruel burden for him to have carried – to excite this deep sense of guilt in many watching and to cause by any small failure its release as indignant opprobrium. He gave us so much of something that we wanted but could not admit that we wanted.
Knowing how he himself batted, knowing how that batting had developed with years of practice and thought and more practice and more thought, he must have had a deep sense of injustice at the way he personally was judged and his cricket misunderstood.
How confusing and hurtful for him. Small wonder then if he took sanctuary in an image of aloofness and lack of care. ‘If that’s how they see it who am I to argue otherwise.’
Gower would have been celebrated if he had played cricket before the Reformation, when such talent was considered a blessing and failure easily forgiven as just the other side of the same coin.
Accepted thus he might have succeeded even more often and played longer. Those who piled their blamed on him cut off their nose to spite their face.
Tomorrow, let’s ask how he might have a fared in today’s times of cricketing counter-reformation.
P.S. On this particular day, Third Man is up early for a ‘Good Morning’ walk.