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April 19, 2013

The Tiger Moth incident

The worlds of Gooch and Gower

Safi Thind
Who served England cricket better?  © PA Photos
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When trying to describe the style and character of David Gower's batting, you use words such as "graceful", "elegant", "insouciant" to capture his ethereal majesty.

To describe Graham Gooch, the words that spring to my mind are: "hebetudinous", "sombre", "formaldehyde".

It's quite a contrast.

One was as free-flowing as hot butter, the other as dense as a jar of jam. One played to the strains of Strauss. The other was Wagner in helicopters. One had a curly angel's mien. The other a barbarian's uncompromising 'tache. One was the England of yeomen and yokels. The other of dandies and fops. One skimmed. The other soared.

And yet ask an Englishman which English batting innings he rates the best. It's Gooch's 154 at Headingley.

It was Gooch who got the triple-century, Gooch who fought to give England's batting the steely spine it has today, not the supine style of ages past.

For many, the world splits into Gower and Gooch.

There is, however, one confrontation which brought both worlds colliding together in a drama to illustrate the deep divergences of the human character: the 1991 Tiger Moth incident.

England were playing Queensland before the fourth Test in Adelaide. The team, captained by Gooch, had already lost two of the first three Tests. But Gower had been in champagne form, scoring two hundreds.

The Carrara Oval was close to the local aerodrome and the players had already seen planes flying above the stadium at around 2000 feet. Unwilling to pass up the opportunity, Gower snuck off with his cohort, John Morris, and commandeered a Tiger Moth biplane to buzz the ground. He didn't tell the Margaret Thatcher-loving Gooch, of course.

Gower said: "I did think of asking Graham, but I knew he would be unhappy with us flying, and as that was the entire point of the exercise, I decided it was best not to mention it at all."

With the debonair charm of a Lord Flashheart, the aristocratic cricketer persuaded his pilot to swoop down onto the stadium to a height of 200 feet, scaring players, crowd and the umpires witless.

Gooch was (presumably) at that time sitting on the England balcony, sipping a cup of hot tea. One can only imagine the look of horror as he saw this warplane diving towards him at a steady 80 miles an hour. His fury was raised, and he bustled around blue-faced, trying to find the cause of the alarm, urging the manager to convene a team meeting to punish the wayward son.

Gower and Morris were both summoned before a late-night team management committee, led by the now wild Gooch, who later commented: "They let us down badly. What if the rest of the team, especially the younger ones, thought that sort of behaviour was par for the course?"

Indeed, what if? One envisages legions of sub-World War biplanes diving on the cricket grounds of the world. Champagne and caviar replacing protein shakes and roughage. The Hittites resurrected. Who knows what other insanity.

Sadly this was not to be. For Gower and Morris were punished. The consequences of this were a £1000 fine, and a divorce in relations between the two Gs.

In the event, this marked the start of the end of Gower's career. His performances over the rest of that tour were poor, ending with a next-highest score of 28 not out.

Gooch's antipathy towards Gower led to his removal from the 1992-93 tour of India. It was a sad day, one on which many people fell a little out of love with cricket. Style was overtaken by rigour. Imagination by facts.

It was like breaking a tiger moth on a wheel.

Gooch, of course, went on to become England's highest Test scorer. The moustache was seen hovering in cricket grounds until the year 2000. And after that he has become the acknowledged mentor behind players like Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara.

Gower turned to Sky Sports.

The Gooch-Gower contrast was a microcosm of the traditional professional-gentleman dichotomy. It split sides. It was, for me, the end of style. Professionalism took over.

The question is who has served England cricket better - a Gower or Gooch. I don't know.

Instead, I'll leave the last, wistful word to Gower himself, from an interview in the Independent in 1995: "I was never destined to be on the ball 100% of the time. I don't have the same ability that Graham Gooch has, to produce something very close to his best every time he plays. There were Test matches where I suddenly felt, at the end of it, 'Well, I wish I'd really been at that one.'"

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A quite passionate follower of cricket and writer of articles, Safi Thind is one of the authors of the cricketerdiaries blog

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (April 21, 2013, 13:20 GMT)

They are the most important players for England, in the last 20 years. I might be forgiven by Petersen, Flintoff and others. I mean, Gooch is perhaps what Tendulkar is to British Cricket. And what is marvelous is that he is just an every person person in the British Isles. No one expected Gower, to win matches for England, and when he did, people were grateful, it appears. It seemed the British were uncertain, whether to admire his batting, or to wonder if he might get out the next delivery. His persona was such, it was relaxing him hitting a boundary, and also, it seemed an unfortunate incident when he got out, but one looked forward to the next batsman, coming in to bat, who was probably the No. 4 batsman.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2013, 13:43 GMT)

The only thing great about Gooch is "soldier like commitment". Get up, go to the nets/ game, never give up, and do it all over again. If he wanted to have it as THE core value of the team, he was justified in institutionalizing it and even picking his team.

But they were 2 adults. There was NOTHING an adult conversation couldn't have solved. Instead, EGO and short-sighted selfishness won. Gower moved out when he was peaking again and had been thrilling the world. For me, with Gower's exit, Cricket stopped being Life, being an expression & extension of self. It just became another game. It's been ages since their retirement, many Goochies have come, but has the world seen another Gower ? Nope !! We still play Bach, Beethoven, Mozart for a reason. Which is why Gower rules the hearts even today.

ECB & Gooch could have built core values WITH Gower in the team. Instead he had him exited, and then got to the top scorer record. The Villain..for eternity. That's Graham Gooch.

Posted by shillingsworth on (April 20, 2013, 10:54 GMT)

Yes, they were different personalities but Gower was capable of playing the defensive match saving innings while Gooch was primarily an attacking batsman, not the dour plodder portrayed here. The suggestion is that they somehow inhabited different worlds - odd given that they actually shared England dressing rooms around the world for more than 10 years. The choice offered is the standard cliché of cavalier Gower vs roundhead Gooch. The reality is rather more nuanced, something which this superficial piece entirely fails to capture.

Posted by   on (April 20, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

Free flowing as hot butter and dense as a jar of jam? Seriously? The extremely platitudinous Shastri and Sidhu, I think are beaten hands down.

Posted by philipg33 on (April 20, 2013, 4:33 GMT)

There is no way on earth that Gooch served English cricket better than Gower. Gower scored 9 ashes tons and scored more runs in the Windies than any other english contemporary Gooch went to South Africa, he pulled out of the Ashes 86/7. Let Gower down badly in 89 even so far as refusing to play because he was so impotent against Alderman. He also drove flair out of English cricket. IT wasn't just Gower he dropped in 92/3 but Russell also. He also mishandled Tufnell which led to a 10 year period of very poor and very dull cricket from England. We had to wait for Vaughan to see the return of style, real skill and characters like Flintoff. It is also worth taking a look at Gooch's pre 333 average. Gower on the other hand never averaged less than 4O in an era of MArshall, Khan, Dev, Hadlee et all. Had Gooch not messed Gower around he would have finished 2000 runs clear of Gooch. During Gooch's captaincy GOwer averaged over 50. Sadly Gooch put personal records before the team.

Posted by Tyrion-and-Tywin on (April 20, 2013, 0:24 GMT)

BTW, I saw the "333" match live on TV, I think there were half a dozen centuries scored in that match. But many remember that match for Kapil's 4 consecutive 6s which save the follow-on for India.

Posted by Tyrion-and-Tywin on (April 20, 2013, 0:00 GMT)

My 2 cents worth:

1) Both were the last two great English Batsmen: With all due respect to Gatting, Vaughn, Lamb, Cook, Strauss, you are/were all good, but not great. Petersen is not English.

2) Gower was much better looking. He also had/has more hair (on his scalp).

3) If Andrew Symonds had chosen England over Aus (he was born in England), he would never have played in Gooch's England, but he would have thrived with Gower as captain.

4) Gower is also a great commentator. Have to give it to the English here, you guys have great commentators (Gower, Lloyd, Atherton and some middle aged people may remember Blofeld). But you also gave us Willis (how can a sparky fast bowler be such a dreary commentator I would never know)

But I digress.

Overall Gooch was a greater batsmen and his contribution to English cricket was also greater. Sorry David, I like you more - but dreary Gooch was a touch better!

Posted by Longmemory on (April 19, 2013, 23:25 GMT)

Safi Thind is rapidly emerging as one of the best writers on cricinfo, or indeed anywhere at all. Breaking the tiger moth on a wheel - that line alone is worth the price of admission! And what's more: Thind is definitely way more Gower than Gooch. Thanks - and keep up the good work.

Posted by Testcricfan on (April 19, 2013, 19:43 GMT)

I see a parallel in today's team in terms of attitude & batting styles between Gooch-Gower & Cook-Bell respectively. Cook, Gooch's foremost protege, is similarly bloody minded, while Bell, Gower's spiritual heir to lazy elegance, comes across as touch laid-back/ soft, whatever way you prefer to call it. Though Bell was anointed as the next batting superstar, it is Cook who is setting all sorts of batting records. Just to show left handers are not always elegant, Cook is industrious and Bell is the better stylist. In a positive spin to the tale, however, the relationship between the contemporary pair is nothing but cordial (atleast to someone looking from the outside), and hopefully it stays the same for the betterment of english cricket.

Posted by   on (April 19, 2013, 15:52 GMT)

Gower for me every time....I don't care about any of Gooch's Boycott-like attitude and statistics....and his 300 was scored at home against a terrible "attack'...you might also want to mention that a great majority of Gower's centuries were scored AWAY FROM HOME....in Aus, WI, Pakistan and NZ....

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Safi Thind
Safi Thind yearned to play cricket for his country. Unfortunately he had a dual nationality, which made that impossible. After studying in England he lived in France but came back to write on cricket, wine and some other things. He writes the cricketerdiaries blog

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