Gower, the Best he’s Watched

Cricket and A Wild Elephant? TM promises you it will all make perfect sense.

Cricinfo is carrying an article by Christian Ryan.  A Touch of Gower describes an eight year old’s reaction to the first Friday of a Test series in Australia, his efforts to ‘skive’ off school, his frustrations at the noise and interference in the family home that morning, the temporary let down of watching Chris Tavare and Geoff Cook opening the England innings and then the unfolding of a Gower innings. 

The memory of that innings stayed with the author through life, but when he came to write the article for The Best I’ve Watched series, Ryan was surprised by the results of his research …

“Yesterday I looked up Scyld Berry’s book from that summer, Train to Julia Creek. Magnificent – but not much cricket in it, and no Gower. I went to the newspaper archives room. No Gower until Wilkins’ 22nd paragraph in the Australian; none in the Herald till the 23rd. McFarline in the Age mentions Gower’s “sensible strokeplay” and Casellas in the West Australian his “enterprise”.  

It seemed almost a begrudging afterthought when Casellas eventually concluded, that these runs were “richly deserved”.

Regrettably the comments for this article have been closed because Third Man would very much like to thank Mr Ryan for sharing this intimate recollection.  We are taken right there with him to his family’s bare living room in Anula, Northern Territory, Australia: broken furniture, no air-conditioning, twin baby sisters wailing, TV on when, “in a blue helmet, no visor or chinstrap, blond curls crushing against his earguards, appeared David Ivon Gower.”

Ryan’s implicit question remains in the air, why was this wonderful batsman so poorly appreciated in his own time?  We know why he should invoke such loyalty among so many, but why did so many of his special innings hardly rate a word, when every ‘failure’ brought down on his head a pile of invective?

Thinking about it over the years Third Man has concluded that, because Gower made batting look easy, it jarred with the belief that sporting achievement has to result from a disciplined work ethic.  We loved to watch Gower but could never forgive him for making us enjoy the guilty pleasure of this illicit ‘unnatural’ bounty from cricket.   Third Man has written about it here.

This kind of thing might have affected Dexter but it did not, not to the same degree.  It affected Gower because Britain had moved out of the Sixties and through the Seventies.  With a growing emphasis on individualism came a greater self-responsibility for doing well.  This found its expression in cricket with the work ethic and training regimes of Mikey Stewart and the utilitarianism of Graham ‘Heavy Bat’ Gooch.   

It was Roundhead against Cavalier and even though the culture of the Eighties became a time of ‘Boli’ and excess, it was excess based on ‘working hard, playing hard’.  Nothing came for free.

Yet Gower’s batting appeared to do just that.  No effort, no work, no practice, no sweat – just indulgence.  That way of life was fine to fantasize about when watching ITV’s sumptious and lethargic portrayal of Brideshead life, but literally unconscionable on the cricket field.    

Lamb and Gower might get into the same scrapes but for one it was considered the natural reaction to a hard innings or a hard tour.  For the other it was the sin of wasted talent.  The very impression of indolence triggered the guilt infused righteousness of the zealot.   

Was it Orwell who said that there was no greater enemy of a wild elephant than a tame elephant? 

It has taken years of gradual change to create the licence for self-expression and a truly bright form of cricket measured by more than just run rate.  Perhaps as we enter an age of austerity we shall once more demand of a our heroes ‘gay abandon’, pleasure without effort and success without limit so that, through them, we may access these heights vicariously.

Then Gatesby will take guard and the wheel will turn further.  But that is going too far into the future, even for Third Man’s Time Machine.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Gower, the Best he’s Watched

  1. diogenes_1960

    to watch Gower score 80 or so was always a treat. The way in the early 90s, when Pakistan were touring, and he was batting 5 or 6…when 200 for 4 would suddenly become 250 all out, with only Gower able to combat the lighting reverse swing of Waqar and Wasim. He played swing so much better than the accredited opener, Gooch…always caught playing round his pads. But because the tail was blasted out so quickly, Gower would end on 20 or 25. is this just my memory playing tricks…maybe I shall check the record books.

  2. diogenes_1960

    In my mind’s eye, I always see Dolly at fine leg. he had a wonderful arm in an England team that tended not to throw too well.

  3. Thanks for pointing out Christian Ryan’s article, TM. It’s excellent, if a little short.

    I’m not sure it’s true to say that Gower was generally under-appreciated by true cricket-lovers, although his regular lapses outside off-stump could be hugely frustrating and annoying. It was more the likes of Stewart and Gooch, fellow professionals, who couldn’t understand why someone so talented could make what they regarded as basic errors of judgement. This, though, was because they didn’t understand that the sensible approach was just too dull for someone like Gower. Those of us who could never hope to play at that level, let alone make it look easy, tended to be a bit more tolerant.

    What Ryan does represent particularly well, though, is how highly Gower was regarded in Australia. He made some of his best runs there, and his career for England abroad was bookended by his 102 at Perth in December 1978, and his 123 at Sydney in January 1991, his first and last centuries for his country abroad. I recall that after the latter innings Wisden Cricket Monthly published a photograph taken by David Frith, the magazine’s editor, from within the crowd, which perfectly captured the feeling and warmth of the SCG crowd’s standing ovation. In the following game at Adelaide, you may recall, he got out to an ill-judged shot played to the last ball before lunch when England were struggling, and Gooch in particular (the crestfallen non-striker at the time) never really wanted him in his side again.

    What is often forgotten, though, was that Gower was a very mentally tough player who played some of his best innings in adversity. A few weeks ago his name came up on TMS (Simon Mann mentioned someone he knew who used to cry while watching him bat) and Boycott – never an easy man to please – simply said something like ‘he made 150 in Jamaica and that’s good enough for me’, referring, of course to his match saving 154 not out at Kingston in the final Test of the 1981 series, in which Boycott, of course, was his team-mate. Another example of this under-remembered steel would be his hundred at Lord’s against Australia in 1989, with his shambolic team spinning to a series defeat and the press gunning for him.

    I’ve been planning to post this for a while, but have just been too busy. As you may have noticed I really welcome your re-appraisals of Gower; while I’m far from an unalloyed admirer, the fact is that he, along, of course, with Ian Botham, was one of the two central English cricketing figures of my childhood, and you never lose the memories.

    In the mid-90s, just after they both retired, I wrote an appreciation of them for the Journal of the Cricket Society. I think I might dust that down and post it on my blog, although I suspect it may not have aged all that well.

    A bit like Gower, perhaps.

    • Thanks Brian. If you post your piece I hope you will not mind TM linking to it. He has an email from Peter Roebuck on Gower which may have been written on a blackberry and needs to be looked at again and decoded.

      • Of course not, TM, I’ll see what I can do in the next week or two.

        Interesting that you’re in touch with Mr.Roebuck, a man who I watched many times in his days captaining Devon, although he always gave off an air of unapproachability so I never spoke to him. Itds be interesting to know what his views on Gower are, as he was (is) of the same generation, even if ‘just’ a county cricketer.

  4. Reblogged this on Down At Third Man and commented:

    At a time when the tame elephants have turned on a wild brother, it might be worth recalling this post about David Gower.

  5. growltiger

    As Third Man has remarked elsewhere, Gower’s defining temperamental characteristic was fatalism, something that is often misunderstood. This was not at all the same as the carelessness which he was accused of by the pedestrian Gooch and Stewart (and others of that mental cast). It has always struck me that his apparent wafting outside the off-stump was a percentage calculation, that it got him runs far more often (and beautifully) than it cost him his wicket. If the latter, there would be another day. The mental toughness that brought a few great innings in adversity (and a few long innings in attrition, quite late in his career) was hand in glove with the fatalism

    • Agreed, GT.

      Interesting to factor ‘gambling’ into such an equation. Your ‘percentage calculation’ may be a euphemism, intentionally or unintentionally.

      Might be interesting to look at Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, for instance, Warne and Sobers in this light too.

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