June 7, 2013

Dear David Gower...

What would an Ashes series be without Aussies and Poms giving each other stick about something or other? Answer: nothing

We know a bit about you Down Under, Mr G © Getty Images

So, the old "culture" thing, David Gower, hm? We don't mind, truly we don't. Sledging between Aussies and Poms is (bloody/jolly) good fun, and what would an Ashes series be without Aussies and Poms giving each other stick about something or other? Answer: nothing.

Oh no, bring it, David Gower. Bring it.

But we expected better. I mean, the culture thing? You couldn't have dug up an older bit of schtick? You couldn't have fossicked around in Neolithic Gondwanaland and dredged up a fresher piece of pathos? An old doozy about convicts, say, or Kylie, or sheep? Please. No. We expected better.

Anyway, David Gower, as Jules Winfield (Samuel L Jackson) says at the start of Pulp Fiction, just before reciting a speech about great vengeance and furious anger and popping several caps in a fellow's bottom, allow me to retort.

Culture, David Gower? Australia has the world's oldest culture, that of Aborigines, the first Australians, the first people almost, outside of whoever wandered out of Kenya. These Australians were painting 50,000 years before your Michelangelo or Turner, or the bloke who lopped off the ear, David Gower. These people were dancing about wearing hats made from dingo pelt and emu feathers many, many aeons before your Morris dancers or your Spice Girls or your druids in the nude, wandering like ghosts in the mist with their pagan rituals and arcane worship of Obelix's menhirs, David Gower.

Now, David Gower, while you might have the look of Cupid on valium with your angelic doe eyes and curly halo of pure white curls (my mum used to call you "Lovely David Gower"), and while your batting was all languid, wristy beauty, and your commentary insightful and understated, you do have rather a bit of what Aussies would call "form" when it comes to baiting we the unwashed, wot?

What? David Gower, I ask that you cast your mind back to 1994-95 and the first Ashes Test at the Gabba in Brisbane. First ball of the Test, Michael Slater square-cut Phil DeFreitas for four, scored 176 (with 25 fours), and Australia finished the first day 329 for 4.

You, David Gower, were in the commentary box for Sky TV, where you were overhead by my spies - yes, my spies - in between overs, sledging a group of Australian fans, making a remark something like, "Someone should throw a bomb into the middle of that mob", without actually meaning that someone should literally throw a bomb into the middle of a group of people, because that would be murder and you, David Gower, you are not about that. It was a joke, let's all remain calm.

"Spies", David Gower? What happened was this: a mate of mine called Keith was working as a diesel mechanic on Australia's Mawson Base on the fringes of the frozen tundra of Antarctica. (Stay with me.) Keith was in charge of looking after the snowploughs and generators and sundry diesel equipment, and was halfway through a six-month stretch on that ever-wintry ice continent.

"Hello boys in Antarctica. To answer your question, no, I did not know you could hear me during the ad breaks, but very nice to make your acquaintance"

Other types on Mawson Base included scientists - there to study penguins and other cold things - and technicians, there to support the scientists and to rig up the satellite to capture the live feed of Sky TV's cricket coverage from Brisbane. Because despite being around 8000 kilometres from the Gabba, David Gower, Aussies still want to watch the cricket, particularly given there is little to do bar work or run about nude in the snow. So Keith and the plucky band of scientists and technicians watched the cricket… without the ads.

Do you see where this is going?

Yes, David Gower, Keith and his work-mates overheard your funny little dig at the group of Aussie fans during an ad break, which meant no one else was able to hear it. And being bored of work and running about nude in the snow, they thought it would be a fun idea to "complain" to you and the greater Sky commentary team about your sledging of their fellow countrymen.

And in days when email was a relatively new thing, they typed up the following to be sent by fax: "Dear Sirs", they wrote, or something like it. "Assuming you're not aware of it but we here on Antarctic Base Mawson are listening to your 'live', ad-free coverage of the first Ashes Test. And we are appalled - appalled! - at Mr Gower's sledging of our countrymen. We demand our honour be restored via an immediate on-air retraction. Yours faithfully, Antarctic Base Mawson. PS - Or you could just say hello during an ad break. We are easily amused down here."

Giggling like schoolboys they inserted the A4 sheet into the fax machine, punched in the fax number on the keypad, and pressed the "send" button. And then they went back to watching the cricket, not sure if they'd receive a response.

Well, David Gower, a few short breaks in play later they were delighted to hear your dulcet tones, saying something like, "Hello, boys in Antarctica. To answer your question, no, I did not know you could hear me during the ad breaks, but very nice to make your acquaintance."

And so an interesting trans-continental friendship was forged. The faxes went back and forth. The crew of Sky's coverage got into the spirit of the thing, zooming in on beautiful women in the crowd for the Mawson boys' pleasure. The boys on the base sent photos of themselves, via fax, so that the girls in the Sky office might check them out as future marriage material. And so in they came, these Instamatic shots of full-bearded workers in goggles and full zero-degree work clothes and boots, gripping various forms of Antarctic research equipment.

The yarn ends there because we're not completely sure of its veracity. I haven't bumped into Keith in many years. But if you're reading, David Gower, you are allowed now to retort.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here