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At the start of the 1986 season David Gower was captain of England, but he was hanging on by his fingernails
April 8, 2006
At the start of the 1986 season David Gower was captain of England, but he was hanging on by his fingernails. Although he had led England the previous summer when they had regained the Ashes, and prior to that a 2-1 series win in India, he had also lost home and away series to West Indies 5-0 in 1984 and 1985-86. While that was hardly a disgrace, his laid-back leadership style during a wretched tour of the Caribbean - both on and off the field - had upset the selectors.
The media had feasted on England's woes in West Indies, and on his return to England, Peter May, the chairman of selectors, gave Gower a blunt talking-to. "What irritated me about this," Gower recalled, "was that he appeared to be doing precious little other than imitating various reports he had read in the newspapers." If May, old-school and correct, thought that Gower would respond do that kind of dressing-down, he had badly misread his captain.
England lost the Texaco one-day series to India, but worse followed when India won the opening Test at Lord's, their first win at the ground. Gower had also upset May by briefly being seen in a sponsor's tent at the Nursery End during England's second innings on the fourth day. Gower sarcastically noted he should probably have been on the dressing-room balcony "making appropriately glum faces for the benefit of the cameras". He accused the selectors of double standards. "You could barely see [them] behind a great mountain of salmon and strawberries."
May was already annoyed before the game started as Gower had 13 T-shirts printed, one with the slogan "I'm In Charge" on the front, the other 12 with "I'm Not" on them. It was a jokey response to media criticism that England were in need of strong leadership. It might have gone down well among the team, but it missed its mark elsewhere.
At the end of the match, Gower carried out the usual post-match interview for the BBC on the pavilion balcony, unaware that at that very moment May was in the England dressing-room offering the captaincy to Mike Gatting.
As Gower returned, May took him to one side and told him that the selectors had decided it was time for a change. Gower took it philosophically, but as soon as he walked back into the dressing-room it was clear that he had been the last person to find out rather than the first. "I was not impressed by this at all," Gower reflected, "but the overriding feeling was more sad than bitter."
Despite this, he shook Gatting's hand and tossed him the "I'm In Charge" T-shirt. He then opened a can of beer and wished Gatting well. "I'm very sorry, friend," Gatting replied.
May compounded his aloofness by refusing to speak to the media to explain the decision. Accosted on a staircase as he left the pavilion, all he could do was mutter that it was time for a change and that "all decisions are difficult". May's behaviour was slammed in the press the following day. As it was, the Guardian reported it was left to Gatting to face the media "fingering his beard like a nervous Henry VIII at a divorce trial in Rome".
"Unfortunately, this match, we didn't do all we could have done for him [Gower]," Gatting admitted. "It's tough at the top, isn't it." Almost exactly two years later, again despite an Ashes success, Gatting found out just how tough when he was dumped as captain on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Gower suffered a further blow at the end of that summer when he was also stripped of the Leicestershire captaincy. However, he returned as England captain for six Tests against Australia in 1989, and again his relaxed approach to the job landed him in hot water when he cut short a particularly tough press conference at Lord's because he was late for the theatre. As the Guardian reported in 1986, he had "not changed a jot since the selectors appointed him" - and he didn't second time round either.
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