Gower has struggled to live up to cliches in TV role
Ashes will signal end after fluency with bat deserted former England captain on Sky, writes Alan Tyers
Quite the most stylish and maddening shop I have known was a place called 155 Clerkenwell, on the Farringdon Road in London. It was a vast, two-floor premises whose rent must have been eye-watering and it was run, one could only surmise, by someone with deep pockets and an artist’s soul.
In its all-too-brief pomp it sold, or at least offered for sale, impossibly beautiful furniture for five-figure sums, and also bespoke men’s tailoring, women’s couture, schmancy homeware, jewellery and jazz LP records.
It had a restaurant, which served excellent food at such good value one wondered if chef might have dropped the calculator in the lobster
bisque, and there was also a cocktail bar, a perfumery, a spa and, when it latterly got very overripe, a handmade bicycle-building caper. The overall sense was of a sunny gentleman amateurism, a retail operation too rarefied actually to retail much, a glorious folly too airy for this cold, cruel world.
It was in there that I met David Gower. English cricket’s most beloved boy of summer was working, although not of course in the sense of labouring, with this establishment for some sort of fine wine offering, which, like everything else in the place, was delightful and quite obviously had gossamerthin chances of commercial success.
Star-struck by the man who had been my first sporting idol, I asked him some leaden questions about how the cricketer’s lot had changed over the years, and how things were going at Sky Sports, which will not be renewing his contract after 20 years as its cricket anchor, although he did not know that then.
How should television viewers take the news of his imminent Sky departure after this Ashes series?
When writing about Gower, it is a sports journalism by-law that adjectives such as laid-back, insouciant, graceful etc must be liberally applied, but his broadcasting has not always chimed with these cliches. It would be a misreading of his on-screen work to judge him an effortless natural broadcaster. His analysis, as conveyed to the viewer anyway, is a shovel through the leg side rather than a flick of the wrists through point: not in the same league as Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain or the newer generation such as Kumar Sangakkara or Ricky Ponting.
As a host, he has only rarely appeared to relish the challenge of getting the best out of the guests in the way that Ian Ward notably does. In chat mode, he can be more waspish and sardonic than the image of the fluffy-haired charmer strolling through the rose garden of post-playing life would suggest.
Last week, Irish pundit Kyle Mccallan’s opening lunchtime remark after England were bowled out for 85 at Lord’s was simply: “Pinch me!” Gower replied, “I might give you a smack,” which reads fine on paper but was tonally off, yet not unusual for a broadcaster whose touch deserts him more often than his fans would like.
It has all seemed less frictionless than he, and his many devotees, could have thought it ought to be, and what on the cricket pitch seemed to be devil-may-care has translated through the television camera to be “who cares?” As a player, he was harder and stressed more than he liked to let on, he has said since. You cannot score a 403-ball 154 not out at Kingston against an attack of Holding, Marshall, Croft and Garner without being a tough bugger.
And there has been a stubbornness in Gower the TV figure, seemingly unbending in his approach during all that time on Sky. Perhaps he has that only-child uncomfortableness at mucking in and rubbing along, it may also be that lofty, very English singularity where being seen to take things seriously at all is considered gauche, for the little people.
When I asked Gower about his passion for wine, he demurred and said: “I wouldn’t call wine a passion, that would be overstating it. I would rather be called a gifted amateur.” Sky, which is both passionate and professional, has called time, and off he will float.
His analysis is not in the same league as Atherton and Hussain or the newer pundits
Marching orders: David Gower will leave Sky Sports after 20 years as its cricket anchor