TOURING USEDTOBE FUN – ASK GOWER ABOUT IT!
One of the great bonuses of playing cricket for England is getting to see all those new, exciting and exotic places. We’re only just into this winter’s tour to the Sub-continent, but already the lads would have been re-inforcing the old adage about travel broadening the mind with visits to the hotel gymnasium, guided tours of the third umpire’s room, and several relaxing hours gazing at the Shah Anamat Chittagong International Airport flight delays board.
There are, of course, well-documented security issues restricting what England’s players can do with their leisure time in Bangladesh, but it doesn’t much matter where they are given the way modern tours are put together. Leisure time has pretty much been abolished.
Seven Test matches in nine weeks is the latest aberration in an increasingly ludicrous schedule, and England’s relentless programme of hotel, nets, coffee shop, and airport doesn’t leave a lot of time for sightseeing wherever they pitch up. Some of them might get a glimpse of the Taj Mahal during the India leg of the tour, but only if there’s a framed photo of the place hanging on their hotel bathroom wall.
Once upon a time, the first couple of items an international cricketer used to pack for an overseas tour was a tuxedo and a bow tie, for all those embassy dinners and fly-the-flag colonial receptions. And in between matches, they’d be off on cruises, organising golf outings, or strolling around local bazaars for a spot of haggling, before ordering local pottery or hand woven rugs to be shipped back home.
These days, though, when an England cricketer gets back from tour and is asked about the various places he’s just visited, there’s a limit as to just how spellbound his audience will be when he’s regaling them with tales of all those fascinating sights he’s witnessed through the windows of the team bus on the way back from the ground.
It’s a shame really. Even tours to Australia are becoming, compared to what they used to be, the equivalent of a weekend break, and there is none of the ‘up-country’ scheduling where you really did see people wandering around in corked hats, and notices advising you to check under the toilet seat for unpleasant spiders.
The 1986-87 tour lasted for 136 days, involved 31 internal flights, and scarcely a week went by without England finding themselves in Crocodile Dundee country listening to the local mayor welcoming them to their town, and being offered, by way of canapés, bits of ostrich on a stick.
Visits were made to places like Lawes, 60 miles north of Brisbane, with a population of 900 people and 900 million flies. The size of cocker spaniels some of them. The match was held at the local agricultural college’s ground, and players like Ian Botham and Allan Lamb, well used to grand entrances, came out to bat from the back of a hot dog stand. To face a local charging in to bowl from – well named given the foul aroma wafting across the ground – the Piggery End.
On the other side of the country we went to places like Kalgoorlie, arriving just in time to join in the celebrations for the installation of the town’s second traffic light. The home team’s opening bowler thundered to the accompaniment of a bloke on the tannoy:“And here comes Stormy Gale, hoping to the put the wind up the Poms!”
Stormy was quick all right, but the only player who ended up in A&E was him – stretchered off when he ricked his back aiming an ugly heave at one of England’s less regular bowlers. Resulting in a collectors’ item entry on the scorecard: N. Gale b Gower 5.
There was plenty of spare time in which to play the tourist card, as Gower himself once did taking the train from Sydney to Perth, spending three days looking out of the window at pretty much nothing at all, but keeping the wine waiter pretty busy.
Then there was the time a couple of us hacks decided to drive from an England game against New South Wales down the coast from Newcastle to Sydney and passed through a town called Mount White. On the outskirts was a large wooden notice board headed:“LOCAL NEWS”, underneath which was written: “There is no local news this week.”
England tours to the West Indies used to be full of visits to small sun-drenched islands in between the Test matches, but on their last tour there was just a single warm-up match before three back-toback Tests. No St Lucia, no Grenada, and no Guyana, which is not a Caribbean island at all, but on mainland South America and pretty run down. The capital, Georgetown, had one restaurant back in the early Nineties, and one golf course, where all the green keeping staff had four legs. The grass was kept in check by herds of sheep and goats, and after your round you sat down and drunk a very warm beer. The cooler had broken down 20 years earlier, and they were still waiting for the spare parts.
You could also have had a game of dart, as opposed to darts, as the local moths had come to regard the flights as something of a delicacy, leaving only one serviceable projectile.
It’s not like that any more, not for touring sides coming to England. There was a tradition of a gentle opener on the Dutchess of Norfolk’s back lawn at Arundel Castle, and there were games against all, or nearly all, the counties. Nowadays, though, there’s barely time to embrace the local cuisine, which is perhaps just as well.When Sri Lanka visited a fish and chip shop in Cleethorpes on their first ever visit in 1984, half a dozen of them went down with food poisoning. Must have been the mushy peas.
Just think of some of the wonderful things we’d have missed had all cricket tours been as they are now. The Tiger Moth business for example. The look of indignation on the tour manager’s face when he found out the bloke in the goggles impersonating the Red Baron was none other than D.I. Gower. Not to mention the look of disappointment on Gower’s face when the pilot refused to let him take a couple of water bombs up with him to drop on the England batsmen.
Cricket tours may be fitter, faster, and more streamlined, but they’re nowhere near as much fun.
Once upon a time the first couple of items an international cricketer used to pack for a tour was a tuxedo and bow tie for embassy dinners