1988 November 6, 2004

Mike Gatting's annus horribilis

A look at Gatting's unfortunate turn of events after the Ashes glory

Mike Gatting: it wasn't a very good year © Cricinfo
At the start of England's home series against Pakistan in 1987, life was good for Mike Gatting. But the 12 months that followed were truly an annus horribilis for him, culminating in his being sacked in a wholly unsatisfactory manner.

Appointed England's captain after David Gower's dismissal following defeat in the first Test of 1986, Gatting became a hero when England retained the Ashes with a 2-1 series win in Australia in 1986-87. A lead-by-example figure, Gatting epitomised the no-nonsense British bulldog spirit, albeit one with a reputation for preferring a second helping to a session in the nets.

That summer's Pakistan series was fairly bitter, and although England lost it 0-1, Gatting came out with his reputation enhanced thanks to back-to-back hundreds in the last two Tests. The return series that followed in Pakistan was possibly the most hostile since Bodyline, and the pictures of Gatting exchanging insults with Shakoor Rana at Faisalabad remain among cricket's most enduring and infamous images. The second-leg of that winter's trip, to New Zealand, was a stroll in the park by comparison, but still had its share of incidents.

The 1988 summer promised to be even tougher with the visit of West Indies, victors over England in all their 10 previous meetings. In the first Test at Trent Bridge, England ended that sequence with a draw, helped by poor weather and a Graham Gooch hundred. But no sooner was the match over than Gatting was subject to trial by tabloid.

Two papers, The Sun and Today, accused Gatting, and other unnamed players, of shenanigans with a barmaid, Louise Shipman, in his room at Leicester's Rothley Court hotel during the first Test. Gatting furiously denied the story, but the damage had already been done.

It was an opening the Test & County Cricket Board, the forerunner of the ECB, took with indecent haste. The authorities had been looking for a chance to remove Gatting ever since the stand-off at Faisalabad, but his popularity had proved too much of an obstacle. He had further angered the powers-that-be with the publication of an autobiography, Leading From The Front, which sent the TCCB into apoplectic shock and was banned in all shops on county grounds. Gatting was good enough to lead Middlesex and England, but spectators couldn't buy his book at Lord's.

Common sense suggested that West Indies would have given the selectors an excuse to sack Gatting sometime during that summer anyway - the draw at Nottingham was never going to be more than an brief interruption to their winning run. His record was poor enough - the two wins in Australia were the only ones in his 23 Tests as captain - and his form with the bat was also on the slide, his average a modest 25.80 since his spat with Shakoor. But common sense at and English cricket have never gone hand-in-hand.

Tabloid tales © Cricinfo
Gatting gave his side of events to the selectors, who were acting on behalf of the TCCB. He admitted taking Shipman into his room but denied anything untoward had happened. Three days after the incident, the TCCB summarily dismissed him.

And then Peter May, the embattled chairman of selectors, offered the media an explanation which left him and his board ridiculed. We don't think he slept with the barmaid, was the gist of May's explanation, but he shouldn't have invited her to his room. Gatting had effectively been sacked for having a late-night drink with a female.

The media went into overdrive. "It [the TCCB] not only condemns a man on a suspicion, it also covers up its reasons," wrote Mike Brearley in The Sunday Times. "Gatting, caught rumour, bowled hypocrisy, 0" headlined the Melbourne Age. In Wisden Cricket Monthly Matthew Engel called the TCCB "petty, bossy and vindictive". He added that the same board had "rewarded" Gatting with a £1000 bonus for the far more serious action of yelling at Shakoor only six months earlier.

Gatting stood down from the second Test at Lord's, where John Emburey took over as captain and resumed England's losing streak. Gatting returned briefly for the third Test. He made 0 and 4 before announcing that he would not be available for selection again until the following summer.

Later that month, the TCCB had another kick at the Gatting, fining him £5000 for breaching his tour contract by writing about the Shakoor incident in his book, more than double the previous record fine.

A little under a year later came the final insult. Ted Dexter took over from May as head of the selectors and immediately pressed for Gatting's reinstatement as captain, only to be overruled by his colleagues. Gower, Gatting's predecessor, was reappointed instead.

In the following months, Gatting became a central part of coordinating the second rebel tour of South Africa, which he eventually led, further ostracising him from an establishment he had every reason to believe had betrayed him.

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Wisden Cricket Monthly - Various
The Cricketer - Various
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1989