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

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  • dummy4fb on June 2, 2010, 21:57 GMT

    I once bought a very poor video called The David Gower Story which seemed to spend as much time discussing his favourite wines as his cricket but one thing I do remember from it is that he picked this innings out as the best he ever felt in the middle and he didn't feel there was anyway he was going to get out. Until he skied one to third man (I think).

  • LancsTwins on June 2, 2010, 11:29 GMT

    Lovely article. Unlike some, I am old enough to remember Gower in his pomp and there was nothing more beautiful, though I agree that Mohammed Azaruddin, Martin Crowe and Mark Waugh are worthy comparisons. DavidWarner, no-one made runs against the great WIndies sides of the 80s for long, including Greenidge and Richards when they faced their colleagues in Shell Shield games. But Gower was not just a show pony. Check out the 1986 series in the WIndies when Gower was the only one to remotely cope, scoring almost literally twice as many as any of a fine group of batters including Botham, Lamb, Gatting and the much vaunted Gooch. Tim Robinson came into this series with a massive reputation but it effectively ended his Test career. Gower had far more steel than he was ever credited for.

    But most of all, he was beautiful and magical to watch and for a while, he (and Botham) made English cricket exciting and fun. I am grateful to have watched cricket in those times.

  • CustomKid on June 2, 2010, 7:29 GMT

    Cheers Desplatt - You are correct he did suffer with the short ball which was one of the main reasons for losing his spot to Mark. I was at Adelaide oval (my home ground) watching Mark peel off his debut maiden ton. Leg side flicks very similar to that of gower. He also peeled off a sublime ton agaisnt the Windies in 92 at the MCG from memory which was equally as good with Walsh and Ambrose at their peeks.

    Steve Waugh was also suffering with mild stress fractures of the back around 90-91 and resulted in him bowling very little in tests which probably contributed to his axing as well. Needless to say he came back tougher than ever albeit not as good on the eye but the rest is history as they say.

    89 for steve though was just classical stroke play all around the wicket but the offside was stunning. I'll not forget those two tons for a long time.

  • kempson94 on June 1, 2010, 17:25 GMT

    judging by his comments Ajays_PyrotechniXX must also rate such great left handers as panesar, devon smith and farhat!! it seems only english cricket lovers can have an unbiased opinion. godly stokemakers such as lara, gower and sangakkarra, along with great fighters like chanderpaul, boycott and border are surely the best ever left-handers. not to mention the power of gooch, hayden and jayasuryia. i feel bad placing warner's name even close to these greats.

  • DesPlatt on June 1, 2010, 16:30 GMT

    Customkid, you are so right about Steve Waugh in 1989.I got the impression that it was problems with the bouncer that made him change method but may have been back trouble or both. I had the pleasure of seeing Mark's debut century at Adelaide in 1991 which Wisden said "would never be forgotten by those who saw it. Mark Waugh and VVS would both be in my team of players who have given me the most pleasure which would also include Sobers and Barry Richards. I never saw Gower at his most fluent but I remember my late father returning from a one day match in which Robin Smith and Gower had shared a big stand. He felt compelled to write an article about it and concluded " Smith was awarded man of the match but the Gods had already made their own awards".

    The author is so right about the intensity with which a youngster who is really interested watches the game.In my 50s now, I can never summon the concentration I used to as a teenager who never missed a ball and analysed it all.

  • waspsting on June 1, 2010, 13:48 GMT

    Saeed Anwar never played an ugly shot in his life (though many stupid ones). through the covers, he was sublime, and flicking of the pads, just a whip of the wrists. Mark Waugh was all lazy elegence, but it was an illusion somewhat. He hit a lot of 3s, especially through the covers - failure to get a 4. elegance is good, but not when its hampering you from getting the most out of your shot. Jayawardena... This guy makes slog sweeps look graceful. amazing. Ramesh is the most Gowerish - little feet movement, tap of the ball when it reaches him and away she goes. More wristy than Gower, whose signature was cover-drive (not a wristy shot) rather than the flick. Gower would play a type of pick up shot that was very pretty to leg side balls, or the big pull.

  • waspsting on June 1, 2010, 13:44 GMT

    Gower was a beautiful player - no doubt. player who most reminded me of him was Sadagoppan Ramesh - the same lack of footwork, the same gentle tap of the ball to send it merrily on its way. other elegent, touch players - Sayeed Anwar, Mark Waugh and Jayawardena. Inzamam and Youhanna weren't bad either. Azhar looked so neat with his leg flicks, but through the off-side, he thrashed the ball hard. Gavaskar had great style, but was too slow scoring to be a 'treat' to watch (Dravid too). I hear Lawrence Rowe was in a class of his own as far as elegence goes, never saw him play. We should have a list of the ugliest players too, just for fun. Steve Waugh, Ijaz Ahmed, Moin Khan, Gurusingha, chanderpaul, Roger Twose. Border wasn't pretty, but not as ugly as he was made out to be.

  • sundar1967 on June 1, 2010, 10:00 GMT

    I would rate the partnership between azhar and tendulkar against south africa in capetown during 1996 is best innings. The best part of the partnership is that the 15 balls faced by azhar, immediately after lunch, there were 11 fours in it.

  • Sitting-on-a-gate on June 1, 2010, 9:42 GMT

    @Gary_111 - Raina! Irfan! Ojha! Yuvraj! Betterthan Gower. If there was a Lara in that list it would have made it a bit better! Friend, get a tape of Gower during his prime and see how left handers should play. @Croc_on_Mara - It was not style over substance, it was style masking the substance!

  • AJAYs_PyrotechniXX on June 1, 2010, 9:13 GMT

    @kempson94 - Yuvrajs failures in the recent tourneys doesnt take away anything from the fact that he is one of the most stylish and "easy on the eyes" batsman going around. The elegance and charisma that oozes from his presence on the crease cannot be matched by anyone in todays era....Magnificent is the word i would use to describe Yuvis batting whereas Gower was only silken touch

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