Wisden Cricket Monthly / Features

Wisden Cricket Monthly 1986

Unthanked captains

E. M. Wellings finds that David Gower is by no means the first to suffer an unjustified axeing by the selectors

Wisden CricInfo staff

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E. M. Wellings finds that David Gower is by no means the first to suffer an unjustified axeing by the selectors



David Gower moments before he learned of his fate © Getty Images
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Captains are appointed to play the part of foxes in some regrettable hunt, selectors to ride their failures successfully and securely. Would Peter May have accepted the chairman's post on trial for two one-day games and one Test? Very, very unlikely. Why then did he treat David Gower in that way?

Like a football club manager, the captain is held responsible when things go wrong. The selectors, who are not infrequently to blame for choosing the wrong material, live to err again, and again, and again. the brouhaha swirling around the hapless Gower for months should have been settled long since - a mutual decision to make a captaincy change before the season began.

I have known some appalling errors of selection. The omission of Paynter and Bowes from our 1936-37 team to tour Australia. The omission of Bill Edrich on a similar tour 14 years later. And some of the strange manoeuvrings of more recent years.

Quite the worst was the suicidal putting on trial of Gower, who must have known he was doomed. Did the selectors give a thought to team spirit? What could they reasonably expect from a side playing under a skipper waiting to be sentenced? India were very clearly the better side, but that decision was playing right into their hands to exaggerate their superiority.

Gower is not alone in being hoofed out in mid-term. His unhappy experience has been shared by numerous skippers dating far back, who "carried the can" for their selectors. In 1921 Johnny Douglas had to give way to Lionel Tennyson and play under him in the last three Tests. That season was an utter selectorial mess, with no fewer than 30 characters playing parts, often walking-on parts, in the five matches.

At Trent Bridge, before the first day's play, the chairman of selectors, M. K. Foster, was chatting to a member of the Nottinghamshire committee, who said `Good morning, George' to a passer-by. The chairman asked who he was. He did not know George Gunn, who had played two full and highly successful series against Australia before the Great War. With Jack Hobbs out of action for almost the entire season, Gunn was England's best player of fast bowling. And the chairman did not even know him by sight!

Gunn was accordingly not among the ill-assorted 30. But they did include one batsman recognised to be apprehensive, to say the least, of fast bowling, and an amateur who had played only five first-class matches since the war. No wonder Gregory and McDonald were so devastating that England did not total 200 until their fourth attempt.

In the next home series, in 1926, Arthur Carr went the way of Douglas, expelled after four matches. His successor, Percy Chapman, won the Oval Test and the Ashes, which he held in Australia two years later. While winning, Chapman was the game's darling. Then Bradman matured, and Chapman could no longer win so regularly. In 1930 he was also was ousted after the fourth Test. He had done nothing obviously wrong, and at one win each the series was still in the balance. Moreover he was also dropped from the side, although lying third with 43.16 to Sutcliffe and Duleepsinhji in the England averages and despite his superb fielding.

County committees have on occasions been just as ruthless and, if possible, even more stupid. Surrey in 1946 ended their search in club cricket for a skipper - in the days of amateur leaders - with the wrong Bennett. Instead of landing Leo out the BBC, one of London club cricket's best of batsmen, they emerged with the unknown Nigel. He was a weak batsman and utterly lost as a county captain. With a good side in that first post-war season, when many were woefully weak. Surrey nevertheless slipper to twelfth.

In those days there were some curious characters in command of country teams. A Midlands side had one joker who turned back to pick up his cap when it blew off as he was chasing the ball towards the boundary.

For all his qualities of determination as a batsman, Gower lacks the iron to be a rallying point when times become hard. He is too easy-going, perhaps too nice, for the job, just as Ian Botham was too assertive in himself. Two selection errors of recent years

Watching Gower, seemingly indifferent to disaster in the field, made me think of Michael Barton and Ted Dexter. Under the former 1949. Barton had considerable batting ability but was a dreamy captain. He was as unobstrusive as Gower. He fielded in the slips, and the picture lingers of him meandering down the pitch after each over and of his rule of thumb bowling changes. Starting in the field at 11.30 he used to take off his No.2 opening bowler, usually Parker or Surridge, at 11.55 and his No. 1, Alec Bedser, at 12.15.

Dexter could be equally dreamy, a man of many interests and new enthusiasms. Sometimes those interests seemed to become confused, as when he practiced his golf swing while fielding. There was one particularly confusing day in Brisbane, where he was leading his touring side against Queensland. Standing in the covers, he became so remote that Colin Cowdrey, the 12th man fielding as a substitute, finally took over the field adjustments. With the opposing skipper in limbo, MacKay and Grout broke loose, and the latter rushed to 50 in only eight overs.

At international level Bradman rates No. 1 in my period, as thorough in leadership as in all else, starting with the organisation of practice sessions. He used to stand near his bowlers between two nets directing operations systematically.

England's best have been Jardine, Robins, Hutton and Illingworth, and if Brearley was not tactically their equal he also had the priceless quality of inspiration which brought the best out of his players.

In all grades I rate Alan Barber particularly highly. In his only season as a county captain, before devoting himself to schoolmastering, he brought order to a then somewhat awkward Yorkshire squad and prepared the ground for continuing success under Frank Greenwood and Brian Sellers.

Not along after the war players began to be burdened by the close presence of the selectors. They were regularly to be seen cluttering up the balcony of the dressing-room, and I asked Jardine whether that happened in his time.

"We used to let Percy Perrin in the dressing-room, but he used to sit at the end of the balcony and keep quiet; but we wouldn't let any of the others in," he replied.

England's depressed playing standard might improve notably if the selectors would leave the players alone to get on with their tasks.

© Wisden Cricket Monthly

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