England in Australia 2013-14 October 11, 2013

David Gower: from Perth to perfect

David Gower reflects upon his England career through some of his most memorable Ashes experiences
11

Life's a beach. 1978-79: Australia 1 England 5
When I look back now, I feel incredibly fortunate. While batsmen like Graeme Hick had to make their introduction into Test cricket against a formidable West Indies attack, I had a relatively comfortable start against Pakistan and New Zealand attacks which were good but not threatening in the same way that others might have been. As a result, I went into my first Ashes tour feeling confident in my own game and secure in the team.

I had been in Australia the previous winter. I played for Claremont Cottesloe Cricket Club for four months and, when I wasn't playing, I spent my time on the beach. I loved it. I loved the warm sea, the sandy beaches and the friendly people. I practically lived on Cottesloe beach, and by the time I returned with the England team, I felt I knew the place, the culture and that I had a lot of friends there. While some people talk about how hostile Australia can feel for them on an Ashes tour, for me it felt like home from home. It really helped.

There's no way of avoiding the fact that it was not Australia's strongest team. Many of their best players were absent due to World Series Cricket. But there is still something about the Australian spirit that renders them tough opposition in any circumstances. They come at you. They always come at you. And in Rodney Hogg, they unearthed a bowler who was as quick as anyone I faced in short bursts.

I made a century on the first day of the Perth Test. It was my eighth Test in all and my second Ashes Test. The ground and the area will always be special to me. It's smaller than the other Australian Test grounds and so has a more intimate atmosphere. The pitch tends to have some extra pace and bounce, which encourages fast bowlers and batsmen prepared to play their shots. It makes for good entertainment.

I recall feeling comfortable at the crease. But just before tea, when I was on about 80, Hogg bowled one which smacked into the side of my neck. It focused my mind, I can tell you. I reached my century just before the close and we went on to win the Test. It was a special time for me.

In some ways, I feel lucky to have played in those days. The tours were long and we were not paid anything like the levels of today's players. But maybe we had a bit more fun. We used to have days off to go and spend on the beach and I took the time to catch up with old friends. I'll be heading back there again this winter.

Old socks, a metal bat and a stuffing. 1979-80: Australia 3 England 0
With Packer winding up, the TCCB - the forerunner to the ECB - offered to play three Tests in Australia the following winter to help the Australian cricket board get back on its feet. But they were smart. Realising the Australian team would be back to full strength, they argued that a three-Test series wasn't long enough to contest the Ashes, so this was an unusual Test series between the two sides, where the urn was not at stake.

It was probably just as well. At full strength they were a formidable team and we were stuffed 3-0. I didn't have the best series personally, either. I seem to remember Greg Chappell being presented with something called "The Urnie" at the end of the series in Melbourne. It was just a pair of old socks or something that had been burned and put in a tin; not quite the same as the old urn.

One of the more memorable moments in that series came at Perth when Dennis Lillee walked to the wicket with an aluminium bat I recall he hit one which should, really, have gone for four but because of the bat it only went for three. So in some ways it worked to our benefit. But both captains complained about it. Mike Brearley was worried about it damaging the ball, and Chappell sent out a wooden bat but Dennis refused to use it. He is a real local hero in those parts, so the crowd were getting more and more vocal in their support, and of course, they hated Brearley who they saw as the epitome of everything they despised in an Englishman. In the end the game stopped for what seemed ages but was probably about ten minutes, and Dennis, giving a good impression of being bad-tempered, hurled the bat in the direction of the pavilion. Sales sky-rocketed after the Test. Dennis is no fool, I can promise you. A little while later, the Laws of the game were amended to insist that bats were made of wood.

An eyewitness to history. 1981: England 3 Australia 1
The Leeds Test was simply an extraordinary life experience. We experienced a remarkable array of emotions. Personally, I hardly contributed to one of England's most impressive Test victories. Ian Botham, Mike Brearley and Bob Willis were magnificent and I had one of the best seats in the house to watch it unfold. Although someone did recently point out that I scored 33 runs in that match and we won by 18. I'd like to think I played a part, but it's not really the case.

I've no idea how Australia managed to score 400 in their first innings. We dropped some catches - me included - and then we were bowled out cheaply in our first innings, and then, when we followed-on, seven down and still almost 100 runs adrift. It was a hopeless match position.

We all went to a party at Ian's on Saturday night. Those were in the days when we still had rest days, and well, what can I say - it was a good party. I seem to remember it stretched until Sunday lunch. Then we resumed on Monday morning and Ian, with support from Graham Dilley, played a terrific innings.

Brearley's contribution was immense. If you were to put together all the qualities required of a good captain, you would probably end up with Brearley. He understood every facet of the game, he had wonderful empathy for the individuals in his team, and a formidable memory for the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. He thought about the game deeply and expressed himself clearly. In Australia's second innings, every change he made in the field was spot on, and even when they were 50 for 1 and chasing 130, he gave the impression something could happen. Eventually he switched Willis to bowl down the hill, everything clicked, and the rest is history.

It was the most electric atmosphere I've experienced in cricket. But I felt I was in the best place. It must have been unbearable in the stands or in the dressing room, but at least when you're on the field you feel you can do something about it. I've spent the last 30 years talking about that game, and I still feel very lucky to have been a small part of something so special.

As good as it gets. 1985: England 3 Australia 1
That series was the high point of my career. I've never batted better, and I captained England to victory in the Ashes. My batting at The Oval - where I made 150 and put on about 350 with Graham Gooch - was as close to sublime as I ever felt. We were on our way to winning the Ashes, I was in the nick of my life and I had a good friend at the other end. It was perfect and as good as it gets in cricket.

It all started quite badly. We had won in India, but I wasn't in the best of form, I hadn't scored a century since being appointed captain in June 1984, and I was under pressure. I scored 0 and 3 in the first two ODIs and I was feeling low in form and confidence. It's hard to explain now, but I felt I was drowning.

People think it all turned round with a century I scored in the final ODI at Lord's, and that's partly true but it was actually earlier in the game when I felt something change. David Boon smacked one towards me in the air and somehow everything went in slow motion. I knew in that moment that if I dropped it, it would feel like the end of the world. I don't know if I would ever have recovered my form and confidence.

But the ball stuck. I went on to score a century in the game and three more in the Ashes series that followed. Everything seemed to go our way. Even when Wayne Phillips middled one from Phil Edmonds, the ball thumped into the side of Allan Lamb's foot and bounced back to me. Richard Ellison bowled beautifully and everything we tried worked. It was, from my perspective, a glorious summer.

An all time low. 1989: England 0 Australia 4.
That summer was the antithesis of everything that happened in 1985. You go into Ashes series with certain expectations, so to be beaten 4-0 was hard to take. We understood that when we played West Indies in that period, they were better than us, but we usually expected a good contest with Australia. So to be beaten in that manner was galling in the extreme. We went into the series feeling confident but Australia turned out to be too strong for us, and with injuries, and a rebel tour being announced in the middle of the series, we never once went into a game with our first-choice side. I had only been appointed captain a few months earlier and I went into the series feeling I knew a bit about the job and had a bit of experience as a player. But by the end of the series all my ambitions had evaporated and I was exhausted.

The end of the road. 1991: Australia 3 England 0
You don't realise you're coming to the end at the moment it happens. I still felt I could play. I could still play. I scored two centuries in Australia and another against India in the Test that ended the previous summer in England. But something had changed. By the time we got to Perth, normally a source of such happy times for me, I was a forlorn soul. We were 2-0 down in the series with one to play and I probably hadn't endeared myself to the management with the Tiger Moth incident and the shot I played to get out the ball before lunch in Adelaide. There was no magic left and I was worrying more and more about my game and my role in the side. I tried to turn it around; I tried to tell myself I'd be back, but whether my appetite for it had gone or whether I had just lost something, I don't know. It was my final Ashes Test and I only played three more in total.

It was a sad end, but in general Australia was very good to me. It remains a wonderful country to tour and I have friends to this day in and around Perth that I made when playing Grade cricket all those years ago. I always look forward to returning. I'm expecting great beaches, great wine, great people and great cricket: what more could you want?

Perth, Western Australia, hosts the all-important third Test of the Ashes, where England may just seal a historic victory Down Under. Visit www.ashes2013cricket.co.uk for travel packages.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Essex_Man on October 14, 2013, 17:26 GMT

    Some wonderful memories there! It's fascinating to hear that Gower was so forlorn at the end of the 1990-91 tour. Yes, the team got hammered. But Gower himself seemed to be in brilliant nick. I count myself as very fortunate to have witnessed his sublime century at the SCG in January 1991. It was the first Test I'd ever watched outside England, and it remained my favourite Test innings that I'd seen live until I saw KP's extraordinary assault on the South Africans at Headingley last year.

  • 2.14istherunrate on October 13, 2013, 0:31 GMT

    Gower still sets the benchmark for exquisite batsmanship. I would question that he was quite as laxadaisically as so many think and thought. Defiant 150's to draw against West Indies in 1980/1 at Kingston and in Pakistan a couple of years later would suggest that beneath the relaxed attitude there was a real steel. All those times he was hauled up before an imaginary beak for his lazy footwork leading to his loss of wicket were a necessary outcome of all the lazy footwork and batsmanship which caressed the ball to the cover fence or through the onside to midwicket. He was simply beautiful to watch and his strokeplay was merely an extension of the glass of bubbly he would ingest on his way out to the wicket(reportedly). I suspect like everyone else he did his preparation in full, but in that English way of his, he did not like to give the impression of excess effort. Totally awesome player!

  • TenDonebyaShooter on October 12, 2013, 18:24 GMT

    @Lara213: It was surely the purpose of this article to act as one of the doubtless interminable series of previews of the winter's Ashes series that we can expect (hence the heading "England in Australia 2013-14"). Hence its focus is on Gower's experience of playing against Australia, and hence the lack of mention of the 1984-5 series in India. In any case, what Gower says about that series in India, in spite of his team's victory, surely explains why he would not regard it as that much of a career highlight: "We had won in India, but I wasn't in the best of form". In that 1984-5 series it was Gatting, Fowler and Robinson who were in the runs, not Gower; indeed from memory even wicketkeeper Paul Downton ended the series with a batting average of about twice Gower's.

  • Lara213 on October 12, 2013, 16:44 GMT

    Maybe it would have been better for Gower and English cricket if he had been given a tougher start in test cricket with a few low scores getting him dropped and then a recall to whet his appetite, like Gooch. As it was, he always gave the impression test cricket should be easy and comfortable, and as this article indicates, when things got unexpectedly tough he looked lost and outnof his depth and his form as player and captain deserted him.

    Also strange he doesn't include the India tour of 84/85 as a high point, surely a very untypical Gower perfromance gutsing it out to lead the first ever test team of any country to turn around a 0-1 deficit to win a series in India? A feat only recently repeated again by England.

  • dejfrith on October 12, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    In the hearts and minds of the truly cricket-loving/sporting public (of both countries) the Ashes WERE at stake in 1979-80, and nothing that men in suits could say could make it otherwise. If it was indeed a strong restored Australian side, all the more reason for the Ashes to be on the line. By the same reckoning, and by DG's admission, the 1978-79 Aussie team was a Second XI, and maybe the Ashes shouldn't have been up for grabs in THAT lop-sided series.

  • Faz63 on October 11, 2013, 17:57 GMT

    Sublime yes, angelic more so...as a child I used to look in awe at some of the shots. Agree, tests cut short for unknown internal politics.....possibly to have been in a position to exceed Gooch's record runs in tests at that time?...I remember having the same conversation with my wife which is a long time ago now.

  • george204 on October 11, 2013, 14:20 GMT

    I find it ironic that he describes Gooch as "a good friend", given how Gooch would later treat him. Gower was magical. Only England could mistreat & then discard a player of such obvious class. Yes, he was flawed, at times frustrating, sometimes seemingly fragile, but totally unique. There will never be another like him.

  • mikeindex on October 11, 2013, 12:23 GMT

    One of my cherished cricket memories is seeing the 19-year-old Gower score 33 for Leicestershire at Taunton in 1976. It remains the most beautiful 33 I have ever seen.

  • on October 11, 2013, 8:36 GMT

    I agree it was as good as you will ever see, aesthetically.

  • MartinC on October 11, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    I loved watching Gower bat. Sublime. He did not fit with the Graham Gooch and Micky Stewart regime and their approach to the game - it was a shame as he had another couple of years in him at least at the top when he retired.

    That 1985 summer when he scored over 700 runs as captain against Australia was the best batting I have seen from anyone anywhere over a series.

  • Essex_Man on October 14, 2013, 17:26 GMT

    Some wonderful memories there! It's fascinating to hear that Gower was so forlorn at the end of the 1990-91 tour. Yes, the team got hammered. But Gower himself seemed to be in brilliant nick. I count myself as very fortunate to have witnessed his sublime century at the SCG in January 1991. It was the first Test I'd ever watched outside England, and it remained my favourite Test innings that I'd seen live until I saw KP's extraordinary assault on the South Africans at Headingley last year.

  • 2.14istherunrate on October 13, 2013, 0:31 GMT

    Gower still sets the benchmark for exquisite batsmanship. I would question that he was quite as laxadaisically as so many think and thought. Defiant 150's to draw against West Indies in 1980/1 at Kingston and in Pakistan a couple of years later would suggest that beneath the relaxed attitude there was a real steel. All those times he was hauled up before an imaginary beak for his lazy footwork leading to his loss of wicket were a necessary outcome of all the lazy footwork and batsmanship which caressed the ball to the cover fence or through the onside to midwicket. He was simply beautiful to watch and his strokeplay was merely an extension of the glass of bubbly he would ingest on his way out to the wicket(reportedly). I suspect like everyone else he did his preparation in full, but in that English way of his, he did not like to give the impression of excess effort. Totally awesome player!

  • TenDonebyaShooter on October 12, 2013, 18:24 GMT

    @Lara213: It was surely the purpose of this article to act as one of the doubtless interminable series of previews of the winter's Ashes series that we can expect (hence the heading "England in Australia 2013-14"). Hence its focus is on Gower's experience of playing against Australia, and hence the lack of mention of the 1984-5 series in India. In any case, what Gower says about that series in India, in spite of his team's victory, surely explains why he would not regard it as that much of a career highlight: "We had won in India, but I wasn't in the best of form". In that 1984-5 series it was Gatting, Fowler and Robinson who were in the runs, not Gower; indeed from memory even wicketkeeper Paul Downton ended the series with a batting average of about twice Gower's.

  • Lara213 on October 12, 2013, 16:44 GMT

    Maybe it would have been better for Gower and English cricket if he had been given a tougher start in test cricket with a few low scores getting him dropped and then a recall to whet his appetite, like Gooch. As it was, he always gave the impression test cricket should be easy and comfortable, and as this article indicates, when things got unexpectedly tough he looked lost and outnof his depth and his form as player and captain deserted him.

    Also strange he doesn't include the India tour of 84/85 as a high point, surely a very untypical Gower perfromance gutsing it out to lead the first ever test team of any country to turn around a 0-1 deficit to win a series in India? A feat only recently repeated again by England.

  • dejfrith on October 12, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    In the hearts and minds of the truly cricket-loving/sporting public (of both countries) the Ashes WERE at stake in 1979-80, and nothing that men in suits could say could make it otherwise. If it was indeed a strong restored Australian side, all the more reason for the Ashes to be on the line. By the same reckoning, and by DG's admission, the 1978-79 Aussie team was a Second XI, and maybe the Ashes shouldn't have been up for grabs in THAT lop-sided series.

  • Faz63 on October 11, 2013, 17:57 GMT

    Sublime yes, angelic more so...as a child I used to look in awe at some of the shots. Agree, tests cut short for unknown internal politics.....possibly to have been in a position to exceed Gooch's record runs in tests at that time?...I remember having the same conversation with my wife which is a long time ago now.

  • george204 on October 11, 2013, 14:20 GMT

    I find it ironic that he describes Gooch as "a good friend", given how Gooch would later treat him. Gower was magical. Only England could mistreat & then discard a player of such obvious class. Yes, he was flawed, at times frustrating, sometimes seemingly fragile, but totally unique. There will never be another like him.

  • mikeindex on October 11, 2013, 12:23 GMT

    One of my cherished cricket memories is seeing the 19-year-old Gower score 33 for Leicestershire at Taunton in 1976. It remains the most beautiful 33 I have ever seen.

  • on October 11, 2013, 8:36 GMT

    I agree it was as good as you will ever see, aesthetically.

  • MartinC on October 11, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    I loved watching Gower bat. Sublime. He did not fit with the Graham Gooch and Micky Stewart regime and their approach to the game - it was a shame as he had another couple of years in him at least at the top when he retired.

    That 1985 summer when he scored over 700 runs as captain against Australia was the best batting I have seen from anyone anywhere over a series.

  • on October 11, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    My hero! Finished too early. He should have played 150 Tests!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on October 11, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    My hero! Finished too early. He should have played 150 Tests!

  • MartinC on October 11, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    I loved watching Gower bat. Sublime. He did not fit with the Graham Gooch and Micky Stewart regime and their approach to the game - it was a shame as he had another couple of years in him at least at the top when he retired.

    That 1985 summer when he scored over 700 runs as captain against Australia was the best batting I have seen from anyone anywhere over a series.

  • on October 11, 2013, 8:36 GMT

    I agree it was as good as you will ever see, aesthetically.

  • mikeindex on October 11, 2013, 12:23 GMT

    One of my cherished cricket memories is seeing the 19-year-old Gower score 33 for Leicestershire at Taunton in 1976. It remains the most beautiful 33 I have ever seen.

  • george204 on October 11, 2013, 14:20 GMT

    I find it ironic that he describes Gooch as "a good friend", given how Gooch would later treat him. Gower was magical. Only England could mistreat & then discard a player of such obvious class. Yes, he was flawed, at times frustrating, sometimes seemingly fragile, but totally unique. There will never be another like him.

  • Faz63 on October 11, 2013, 17:57 GMT

    Sublime yes, angelic more so...as a child I used to look in awe at some of the shots. Agree, tests cut short for unknown internal politics.....possibly to have been in a position to exceed Gooch's record runs in tests at that time?...I remember having the same conversation with my wife which is a long time ago now.

  • dejfrith on October 12, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    In the hearts and minds of the truly cricket-loving/sporting public (of both countries) the Ashes WERE at stake in 1979-80, and nothing that men in suits could say could make it otherwise. If it was indeed a strong restored Australian side, all the more reason for the Ashes to be on the line. By the same reckoning, and by DG's admission, the 1978-79 Aussie team was a Second XI, and maybe the Ashes shouldn't have been up for grabs in THAT lop-sided series.

  • Lara213 on October 12, 2013, 16:44 GMT

    Maybe it would have been better for Gower and English cricket if he had been given a tougher start in test cricket with a few low scores getting him dropped and then a recall to whet his appetite, like Gooch. As it was, he always gave the impression test cricket should be easy and comfortable, and as this article indicates, when things got unexpectedly tough he looked lost and outnof his depth and his form as player and captain deserted him.

    Also strange he doesn't include the India tour of 84/85 as a high point, surely a very untypical Gower perfromance gutsing it out to lead the first ever test team of any country to turn around a 0-1 deficit to win a series in India? A feat only recently repeated again by England.

  • TenDonebyaShooter on October 12, 2013, 18:24 GMT

    @Lara213: It was surely the purpose of this article to act as one of the doubtless interminable series of previews of the winter's Ashes series that we can expect (hence the heading "England in Australia 2013-14"). Hence its focus is on Gower's experience of playing against Australia, and hence the lack of mention of the 1984-5 series in India. In any case, what Gower says about that series in India, in spite of his team's victory, surely explains why he would not regard it as that much of a career highlight: "We had won in India, but I wasn't in the best of form". In that 1984-5 series it was Gatting, Fowler and Robinson who were in the runs, not Gower; indeed from memory even wicketkeeper Paul Downton ended the series with a batting average of about twice Gower's.

  • 2.14istherunrate on October 13, 2013, 0:31 GMT

    Gower still sets the benchmark for exquisite batsmanship. I would question that he was quite as laxadaisically as so many think and thought. Defiant 150's to draw against West Indies in 1980/1 at Kingston and in Pakistan a couple of years later would suggest that beneath the relaxed attitude there was a real steel. All those times he was hauled up before an imaginary beak for his lazy footwork leading to his loss of wicket were a necessary outcome of all the lazy footwork and batsmanship which caressed the ball to the cover fence or through the onside to midwicket. He was simply beautiful to watch and his strokeplay was merely an extension of the glass of bubbly he would ingest on his way out to the wicket(reportedly). I suspect like everyone else he did his preparation in full, but in that English way of his, he did not like to give the impression of excess effort. Totally awesome player!