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...
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