Australia v England, first Test, Perth, 1982-83 May 30, 2010

A touch of Gower

A WACA innings where the batsman should, by rights, have gone on to make 400

When you are eight you watch cricket with a keener eye for detail than you shall ever summon again. Brief passages of play swell big and perfect in your head, almost as if you imagined them, maybe. This is particularly the case on the first Friday of the Test match summer - when you have been up since daybreak, engineering a migraine and various runny-tummy emergencies in an effort to avoid school, only to be rewarded with the spectacle of Chris Tavare and Geoff Cook, not so much an opening stand as an opening lie-down.

Such was my predicament in a bare living room in Anula, Northern Territory, Australia: broken furniture, no air-conditioning, twin baby sisters wailing, TV on. Then, in a blue helmet, no visor or chinstrap, blond curls crushing against his earguards, appeared David Ivon Gower.

A dainty flex of his arms and the ball went scudding through the covers. Balls nearer his legs were cuffed away, so soft, a butterfly catcher's touch. His feet hardly moved yet were always in position. No reaching or lunging was required, no tugging around corners.

The specifics fail me. But I see him standing tall, and with so much time, leaning always on the back foot, waiting… waiting for Dennis Lillee, and caressing him straight; waiting for Bruce Yardley, the spinner, and late-cutting him through slips.

Cricket in Perth - something to do with the light - often seems abnormally pure. This, though, was purer than spring rain. Then John Dyson at square leg dived three metres to his right and it was over.

Yesterday I looked up Scyld Berry's book from that summer, Train to Julia Creek. Magnificent - but not much cricket in it, and no Gower. I went to the newspaper archives room. No Gower until Wilkins' 22nd paragraph in the Australian; none in the Herald till the 23rd. McFarline in the Age mentions Gower's "sensible strokeplay" and Casellas in the West Australian his "enterprise". Seventy-two runs, Casellas concludes, that were "richly deserved".

Richly deserved? Gower deserved 400 that day, not 72. And this morning, no longer eight years old, I wonder: did it really happen?

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket

Comments