Saturday, 3 September 2011

Would David Gower get in this England team, and other arguments

David Gower is, I think, the first cricketer whose entire international career I was able to watch. I don't quite recall Botham's debut, but I do Gower's, which began, as no-one needs reminding, with a first ball pull for four off a bowler called Liaqat Ali, whose sole contribution to cricket history this seems to be - an unfortunate quiz-question of a career, that.

All of the rest of that era - Willis, Gooch, Boycott, Knott etc - were already playing, but Gower, yup, I was there for the lot. It came to mind when reading Andrew Miller's piece at cricinfo on how good the current England side are. The general feeling seemed to be that this is a workmanlike team profiting in an era of flat tracks and non-lethal bowling, and it's a valid view to have. How many of those Indian pies would Goochie have gorged himself on? Loads, probably, if he could have got the strike off of Geoffrey and his stick of rhubarb.

But whenever these arguments emerge, two things happen, one obvious and one not quite so. The first is that we are remembering men in their prime, at their best, and sometimes with that lovely, melancholic air of what the Portuguese call 'saudade', which is a kind of nostalgia for something that never really happened. The second is that the older set of men have the advantage of being judged on the whole of their time, rather than the cross-section of the current team.

So taking a kind of composite, early 80s England XI that may never have actually taken the field together [I would check, but, you know...] which of them would have got into the current team? Beginning with the non-arguments: Ian Botham would get into any England side of any era, first name on the sheet. Disregarding the captaincy for now, Boycott would displace Andrew Strauss. As much fun as they were, Mike Gatting and Allan Lamb, with Test averages in the 30s, would not crack this middle order. John Emburey would yield to Graeme Swann; Geoff Miller would make it only as a selector [at which he is very good] and Phil Edmonds could tough it out with Monty Panesar for the non-playing spinner's role. Mike Hendrick, who never took a Test five-fer despite his niggardly ways, and Chris Old, with his legendary propensity for an injury, could not survive in this day of bowling units. Alan Knott and Bob Taylor were sublime glovemen, but this is the modern era, and Matthew Prior is a far superior batsman to both, even Knotty, with his pre-Chanderpaul, crab-like efforts.

Which leaves Willis, Gooch and Gower. The Goose had the one thing that the current attack lacks - out and out pace, and so could displace Bresnan. And Gooch and Gower would walk in, right...?

Er, well... Gooch is a leviathan of English batting, remembered as much for the first-class runs he scored - a figure no current player will approach - as anything else. But his Test match career was one of two halves, and we don't yet have the benefit of Alastair Cook's second half. Cook has played 72 Tests, scoring 5868 runs at 49.72, with 19 hundreds and 26 fifties. After 72 matches, Gooch had 4714 at 37.41 with eight hundreds and 29 fifties.

And would Gower bat at four or five? At four is KP, with 6361 runs from 78 matches at 50.48, with 19 hundreds and 25 fifties. after 78 games, Gower had 5523 runs at 45.27 with 12 hundreds and 26 fifties. Pietersen already has more hundreds than Gower would go on and make.

At five is Ian Bell, with 5027 runs from 69 matches at 49.28 with 16 hundreds and 28 fifties. At a similar moment, Gower had 4543 runs at 42.06 with nine hundreds and 23 fifties.

These are not definitive comparisons but are more even than looking at the completed careers of one set of players against the incomplete records of others. Now the main argument for the records of the older players being reassessed: the quality of bowling. Gooch and Gower, you can argue, faced one of the most daunting attacks of all-time in West Indies. Here, Gooch is impressive, with an average of 44.83 as opposed to his overall mark of 42.58. Gower though averaged considerably less - 32.82 against a career 44.25. Gooch's weak point was against Australia, where he averaged 33.31, having encountered Lillie and Thomson early on.

Now consider Kevin Pietersen, who has played against one of the great Australian sides, plus in Warne and Murali, the two most productive bowlers ever. Against Australia he averages 52.71. His low comes against South Africa, at 'just' 42.71.

Cook and Bell can't claim to have competed as well against the very best around, yet their records are both on a sharp upward curve, and their scoring of hundreds is relentless.

Ultimately, if you're choosing on aesthetics, Gooch would come in for Cook, and Gower for Pietersen. However, Pietersen is, I think, better than Gower, and the rest of his career will prove it. An aesthetic choice between Gower and Bell is tougher, but I would suggest that Gower is the more hardened player. His ratio of hundreds to fifties though, 18 to 39, would weigh against him in the mind of a pragmatist like Andy Flower.

It's a daft argument in the end, but here's another: the real choice should perhaps be between the sides of 2005 and 2011. That would be a far closer contest.



17 comments:

diogenes said...

The point about bowling is surely relevant here. Gower, Gatting and Gooch faced Hadlee, Marshall, Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft, Patterson, Bishop, Lillee, (Thomson poast his best), Alderman, Qadir, Imran, Waqar, Wasim, Chandra, Bedi, Bruce Reid and . At the time it looked as if Walsh and Ambrose represented a decline in standards!

Warne, Murali and McGrath represent a much lesser set of opposition, surely! Most of the bowlers faced by Pieterson, Cook and co would struggle to compare with the list above (we can argue about Zaheer Khan etc....but the sheer depth of quality fast bowlers in the West Indies in the 1980s was awesome - I wonder how Cook would fare against the relentless hostility...and Hadlee, Imran and co were no slouches when it came to making the ball move. Hell! they even missed the best years of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. Since the 1930s, batters have rarely had it so easy! Hence asll those misleading averages.

Anonymous said...

The point about Gooch having a career of two halves is well made. But seeking to address the question, would X have got into today's team, surely does not require truncating X's career figures to the first 72 Tests, or whatever, to accommodate future improvement by Cook or Bell. I am not sure what the methodology ought to be, but something more nuanced seems necessary.

The inflation of batting averages over the past 25 years also has to be taken into account.

For what it may be worth, having an even longer memory than the Batsman, I would go for:

Knott rather than Prior, because he so often played (and was required to play) innings that turned the situation; and was a non-pareil with the gloves.

Gower above any of the present top six; having recently watched some highlights, the memories of Gower's sheer quality were confirmed rather than undermined. In some cases, I was surprised how he imposed himself on the fiercest bowling; not just a case of grace in the absence of pressure.

The case for Gooch is harder to make, despite that great innings against the West Indies. I suppose I would probably go for second-period Gooch over Cook, but not by much. I would pick Pietersen, and post-2009 Bell, over Gatting and Lamb, any day.

Russ said...

diogenes, the problem is you are comparing the complete collection of bowlers Gower and Gooch faced against the specific set that the current team face right now.

The West Indies were obviously almost always a full set of great quicks, but Hadlee had limited support, Lillee and Imran too when they were playing. Bishop, Reid and Alderman had even more disrupted careers, others were intermittently good. As OB noted, Gower began his career against someone not known as great.

When you add up all the bowlers KP and Bell have faced, or will face, the list is pretty good: McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Zaheer, Steyn, Morkel, Murali, Kumble, Harbajhan, Ntini, Bond, Amir, Asif, Roach. Some of the latter may be great, may not, but only posterity can really judge, and even then.

The Old Batsman said...

Anon, I agree something more nuanced probably needs using, and I guess the general point, and one I'd make to Diogenes [while agreeing the balance of bat and ball has altered, without question] is that we tend to remember players of the past for their full careers and then judge those halfway through their own against them. It'd be interesting to see, in 15 years time, if even comparing Cook and Gooch seems feasible.

Russ, I think you're right - KP especially has faced and conquered some seriously good bowling, and I don't doubt he would have been successful back in the day.

Maybe Gower's whole career needs reassessing - Anon's right, he was tough in a way that isn't often mentioned.

finally, I always thought that Knott was selected above Taylor for his batting and that Taylor was regarded as the better keeper?

John Halliwell said...

As the OB states, it is all quite daft, but most of us can't resist this game of comparisons.

As an older reader, I have an overwhelming urge to go back further than the eighties. I was fortunate to follow a greater England team than any that has played since: that of the mid to late fifties. Two of the all-time batting greats: Hutton and Compton, were coming to the end, but other greats, and near greats, were in place: May, Cowdrey, Graveney and Barrington. Who from a later vintage would get in that team? Botham has to play. The fifties openers: Peter Richardson and the Rev David Shepherd, have to go, with Cowdrey opening with Gooch (Cowdrey was not unused to opening for England). Knott in place of Evans? He was a better batsman than Evans, but has there ever been a better keeper than Evans? May and Cowdrey would definitely survive. Graveney - a glorious batsman - his place threatened by Pietersen and Gower. But it's the quality of the bowling that astonishes with true greatness running through the fifties side; it's a massive immovable quality: Trueman, Statham, Tyson, Laker, Lock, Wardle, Appleyard. Look no further because no out-and-out bowler since would, in my view, get in that team.

Cowdrey,Gooch,May,Pietersen,Gower,Botham,Evans,Trueman,Wardle,Laker,Statham

John Halliwell said...

I seem to have lost half the team

Cowdrey
Gooch
May
Pietersen
Gower
Botham
Evans
Trueman
Wardle
Laker
Statham

diogenes said...

John


that is a good team!

My worry about Cook is tht he has shown immense ability to make loads of runs quite slowly against poor attacks....remember how he struggled against Aamir and Asif and aginst Morkel and Steyn...and the Aussiesm in Perth? Personally,.I think he will struggle for runs for the next 5 years - rather like Vaughan, he has used up his career allowance of runs in a few series. I suspect he does not have the quality to keep going - nothing about his batting suggests quality...I hope to be proven wrong

Backwatersman said...

Another way of looking at it might be to ask whether Hick or Ramprakash would get into the 2011side. On the basis of their Test averages, then obviously not - but I'm not convinced that either of them were less naturally talented than Trott or Cook, and I'd guess that given the changed England set-up (particularly in terms of psychological support)and the declining quality of the opposition, they would both have made the same hatful of runs in Tests today that they always made in county cricket (much like Trott).

diogenes said...

a thing about both Knott and Taylor is that they kept on uncovered wickets at a time when there were many spinners/slow bowlers and they both have theeir supporters (ask Ian Chappell or Boycott about Knott keeping to Underwood on a tricky pitch). Swann bowls for edges and lbws, not for stumpings. Knott/Taylor/Engineer keeping to a spinner on a sticky or dusty wicket was wonderful to watch. With all due repect, Prior is, like Parks, a batsman converted to a backstop who could not make a stumping if the batsman fell over and succumbed to paralysis.

Anonymous said...

With all due repect, Prior is, like Parks, a batsman converted to a backstop who could not make a stumping if the batsman fell over and succumbed to paralysis.

Not really.

Prior has 6 stumpings in 47 tests; 8 in 68 ODIs; and 3 in T20s.

For comparison, Knott had 19 in 95 tests and 1 in 20 ODIs.

diogenes said...

so Prior will get about 12 stunmpings if he plays 95 tests...which seems to confirm my point. And how many stumpings did Knott make in County cricket?

Anonymous said...

Your point was that Prior 'who could not make a stumping if the batsman fell over and succumbed to paralysis'. His stumping record is more than good enough to refute your claim.

I mentioned Knott's record merely for illustrative purposes, not to imply that Prior is Knott's equal or better at stumping.

Graeme said...

let's not get confrontational here...times have changed. Looking at Knott he took 22 catches off Underwood and 5 stumpings in 72 tests. Catches close to the wicket off Underwood! That is phenomenal.

For Illingworth, he took 3 catches and 7 stumpings. 7 stumnpings off an off-spinner!...times have changed...in those days, the Chappell brothers and Zaheer would go down the track and get beaten by his arm-ball.

A wicket-keeper is as good as the bowlers he keeps to.

Against Swann, Prior has 8 catches and 5 stumpings in 35 tests.

I agree that Prior is a good keeper...but Knott was supernatural - just ask ian Chappell, Rod Marsh, Ray Illingworth. And yet, Bob Taylor was probably better becazuse he did it with less fuss...but then I never saw him keep to Underwood on a tricky wicket. The Pakistan test at Lords in 1974 when wqater got under the covers...if there is film of that, just watch Knott keeping to Underwood. I watgched it and could hardly believe it.

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking piece. I think the key difference between the team now and the 80s (and 90s) teams were that the present team are, as far as is possible, fulfilling their potential, both as a team and as individuals. Gooch and Gower would have averaged over 50 if playing in the present side, whereas Cook would have struggled in days gone by with his poor technique. Bell is beginning to show what he is capable of, but probably wouldn't have had the mental toughness to survive the unstable 80s team. Pietersen probably the same.

Cricket is more of a team game than is acknowledged. WI in the 80s had an excellent team ethic whereas Eng and Aus did not. This gives players space to show their skills and develop their capabilities.

Anonymous said...

I think Gower would certainly have made this team. He was considered a world class batsman in the eighties. You have to factor in the shrinking of boundaries, heavier bats, slowing of pitches and a general deterioration of bowling standards.
Gower had to almost always bat against quality opposition right through his entire career.

Arun

Pay per head services said...

I have my own arguments about if David Gower should get in the Eangland team and I think most of your arguments are similar

Tom Moore said...

Have u picked pietersen over barrington?? For shame sir, for shame.