Yesterday Third Man had a short spell on the batting of David Gower. Today is the chance to hazard a view on how he would have got on in the cricket of today.
No one in first class cricket at the time batted remotely like Gower. He made batting look a ridiculously easy thing to do.
When you can do things with such lack of difficulty it is hard to learn to judge risk accurately. It is too easy to get carried away, forcing when you should be defensive, pulling when the length is not right even for you, chasing wider than is wise; too easy to fall in the twenties and thirties. Yet Gower made 8231 Test match runs at an average of 44.25 with 18 scores over 100.
Nor does anyone today bat remotely like Gower. There are some interesting light-framed batsmen including Sourav Ganguly, but Ganguly’s psychology is so different to that of Gower that reviewing his cricket cannot possibly provide a clue as to how Gower would now respond.
He grew from English conditions that gave him a palette of the straight batted drive, the pull, the cut and the deflected glance.
But these conditions also favour the more powerfully built who crowd out from the lists the lighter–framed batsmen. To survive and prosper as Gower did depended on him being simply better than his physically stronger rivals. He delivered runs, built partnerships, destroyed attacks and entertained more than virtually all those he played with. He took classical batting on a step.
Today the strong men still make up most of those who play. They carry to the wicket their heavy bats, keep their scoring shots to a minimum and seek to intimidate. But these self same batmaking techniques would now provide Gower with a greater range of shots and increased scoring power.
Gower loved a dare and would delight in entertaining himself, his team mates and the crowd with reverses, scoops, deflections and uppercuts. As a top handed left hander, reversing would make him a bottom handed right hander with plenty of power and the ability to loft. His special timing skills, speed of movement and acuteness of cricketing vision would enable him to bring them off with his typical sense of effortlessness.
He would be taller and more muscular now as a child of the Nineteen Eighties. He’d be doing some gym work, even though relative to his contemporaries he would remain of a lighter build. But with his special sense of timing he would exploit the third dimension, having the means and the control to go aerial all the way or to chip the ball over the in-field but short of the boundary catcher.
Gower would be a master at Rock Around the Clock, perfectly equipped to express himself playing different shots to similar balls as the moment took him.
He would certainly relish a central contract to release him from the drudgery of county cricket. He would find an ECB identikit ill-fitting and their favoured ethic would cause some of the old difficulties to reveal themselves, but a-typical mould breaking characters such as Pietersen and Morgan are valued and tolerated now because there is a better understanding of the role that innovation can play.
So would this 2010 Gower appeal to the selectors? In a way the answer will come when they make their decisions on the Test claims of Lumb and Kieswetter and especially Morgan. Will they be pigeon holed and their verve and attack written off for five day cricket?
And how would the crowd and the media treat him? Would he be built up in order to be struck down? All too likely. Would he be the lightning rod for the English’s contrasting delight at seeing someone play so effortlessly and their intolerance of perceived failure? Again, all too likely.
All this is nonsense, of course. We cannot have him now. But we do have Pietersen and we do have Morgan, Lumb, Kieswetter and others. None resemble Gower even closely except that each in their need to express themselves on the field of cricket recall the Master. Like Gower, they need space, time, encouragement, applause and unconditional support if they are to give of their best.
With them we have our second chance.