THIS CHARM­ING MAN

On the eve of a one-man show in Nor­wich cricket leg­end David Gower talks to Tony Wen­ham about sport, life and that in­fa­mous plane ride...

EDP Norfolk - - INTERVIEW - David Gower ap­pears at the Mad­der­mar­ket The­atre, Nor­wich, on May 4. mad­der­mar­ket.co.uk

o one demon­strated the pure grace of cricket bet­ter than David Gower. Lan­guid with trade mark Fauntleroy curls, on his day (gen­er­ally a sunny one) his bat be­came a wand, a magic tool to delight his ap­plaud­ing acolytes.

When it went wrong, he was deemed reck­less, a dilet­tante, who re­fused to match his game to the rigours of in­ter­na­tional sport. Thus the high and lows of the touch player in a world of 24-hour me­dia, where ev­ery arm­chair ac­com­mo­dates a pun­dit, paid or oth­er­wise.

Gower him­self, who comes to Nor­wich’s Mad­der­mar­ket The­atre this month in a one-man show, is charm­ingly re­laxed about the twists of fate that have seen him in turn ex­tolled and vil­i­fied in an all-too-short 14 years in cricket’s top flight. “It’s the way of the world,” he ex­plains, in the same breath let­ting slip that his com­men­ta­tor’s contract with Sky Sports will not be re­newed after this sum­mer’s Ashes se­ries, which will come as a blow to the many fans of his con­sid­ered de­liv­ery.

But de­spite his am­a­teur ve­neer, Gower is not pro­vid­ing any pre­views of the show he takes around the coun­try this sum­mer. He was, after all, a con­tem­po­rary of gi­ant char­ac­ters such as Sir Ian Botham, Al­lan Lamb and Geoff Boy­cott. Those dress­ing room tales must fizz with fun…

“There are many things we have done as in­di­vid­u­als or col­lec­tively that might or might not make the cut,” he teases. In other words: buy a ticket to the show, my friend!

David Gower be­came part of the Eng­land set-up as a mem­ber of the un­der-19 team that toured West In­dies in 1976, forg­ing friend­ships with the likes of Mike Gat­ting and Chris Cow­drey, both, like Gower, fu­ture Eng­land cap­tains. They also en­coun­tered the fear­some young fast bowlers Mal­colm Mar­shall and Win­ston Davies, who would soon tor­ment them on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Gower was just 21 when he made his de­but for Eng­land against Pak­istan at Birm­ing­ham, fa­mously hit­ting his first de­liv­ery to the bound­ary and go­ing on to score a half cen­tury. At once he cap­ti­vated and in­fu­ri­ated cricket’s purists.

There are mi­cro-sec­onds and mil­lime­tres be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure in the 20-odd yards that sep­a­rate bats­man from fast bowler in the men­tally de­mand­ing game of cricket: now Gower’s ef­fort­less cover drive is com­pared favourably to the golden age bats­men of the Ed­war­dian era (whom none of us has ever seen); next that same tempt­ing ball out­side off stump is in the wick­et­keeper’s gloves, and our hero slopes back to the pavil­ion, an elo­quent si­lence per­vad­ing a sta­dium of thou­sands.

Out­siders will have a view on Gower’s com­mit­ment, but a for­mer ed­i­tor of the cricket bi­ble Wis­den has writ­ten per­cep­tively: “You don’t score 8,231 Test runs with­out a cladding of steel.” There was more to this young man than met the eye some­times.

Gower will not be drawn on the in­evitable jeal­ousy that his ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral tal­ent must have in­spired in some of his peers. But he con­cedes his meth­ods did not al­ways ap­peal to the power bro­kers of the game.

“There are peo­ple who will crit­i­cise when things go wrong,” he says. “Some peo­ple can han­dle that bet­ter than oth­ers, but one is who one is. For me, some days it didn’t work, some days it worked beau­ti­fully, some days it looked like lack of ef­fort. I car­ried on much the same way through­out.”

A new wave, how­ever, was in the as­cen­dant. New cap­tain Graham Gooch be­lieved in the work ethic, in­sist­ing on rig­or­ous fit­ness train­ing, ex­ten­sive net prac­tice and early to bed. “Gooch changed his ap­proach,” Gower

ex­plains. “Where I dis­agree is the view that every­one can do it that way. I think good re­sults can come from a range of meth­ods.”

The man­age­ment didn’t and our hero soon found him­self on the naughty step, no­tably in 1991 in Aus­tralia after per­form­ing aer­o­bat­ics above the team in a pri­vate plane on his day off. De­spite a Test cen­tury on that tour, his days were num­bered.

“Gooch and I had a fall-out on that tour,” he says. “I felt that, even though I was pro­duc­ing the sort of cricket that I was happy with, it was not con­sid­ered good enough – and when it went wrong, it went se­ri­ously wrong.”

Gower was left out of the Eng­land team for 18 months and then, de­spite a pri­vate pledge that he would be in the party to tour In­dia in 1992-93, he was not se­lected. Had Gooch con­trib­uted to the end of a fab­u­lous ca­reer that brought more than 8,000 runs in 117 Test matches? “He was in­volved in that, yes.”

It is part of the charm of the man that this pro­saic end is dis­cussed with­out ran­cour and only emerges after some prod­ding.

He has, of course, won­der­ful mem­o­ries of breath-tak­ing moments at the peak of his sport, per­form­ing in front of huge crowds against the tough­est op­po­nents in the game. And that in­cludes the ter­ri­fy­ing 1980s bat­tery of West In­dies fast bowlers, led by his boy­hood foe, the late Mal­colm Mar­shall.

As a pro­fes­sional pun­dit, he has tren­chant views on the game to­day, but nat­u­rally his heart is in the 1980s, a pe­riod when the sport­ing press turned from co-con­spir­a­tors to par­a­sites and some of his more flam­boy­ant team mates found them­selves mi­grat­ing from back page to front.

Do tell, David… no, the un­spo­ken mes­sage re­mains: buy that ticket!

“Some days it didn’t work, some days it worked beau­ti­fully, some days it looked like lack of ef­fort. I car­ried on much the same way through­out”

THIS SPREAD: David Gower con­trol­ling the field in the af­ter­noon of July 3, 1985, when Le­ices­ter­shire beat Nor­folk by 140 runs in the first round of the NatWest Tro­phy at Lak­en­ham in Nor­wich. Ear­lier, Gower had been run out for 41 Adrian Judd

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