Thursday, 8 May 2014

One of the greats, DIG?

The post a couple below this one wondered about the last great batsman that England produced (as opposed to those developed outside of the system). There were some tremendous tweets and comments in response and one name came up repeatedly: that of David Ivon Gower.

To digress briefly, the point of a blog (to me at least) is that it's written quickly, a sort of instant repository for a passing thought. Admittedly, the lack of research is a good get-out for whatever glaring omissions come along but when I wrote the post in question I'd thought of Gower, and had an undeniable flicker as I went to type his name alongside those of Geoffrey Boycott and Graham Gooch - and then didn't.

I've had to question why. Statistically, Gower's Test match average of 44.25 sits perfectly between those of Gooch and Boycott, as does his total of  8,231 runs. Many England fans, perhaps a majority, would pick Gower ahead of both in a heartbeat, and it's easy to understand that. His languid, trippy batting was hardly difficult to love.

Gower's Test career was the first that I saw from start to end. I can clearly recall watching his first delivery, a pirouette pull for four from Liaqat Ali, a seamer who bowled left-arm over. It remains the one thing anyone remembers Liaqat for: from the beginning Gower was sprinkling stardust from his hem.

His batting lives in the memory as something shimmering and ephemeral. He used a wafer of a bat, the Gray-Nicolls GN400, a four-scoop version of the legendary GN100, and he hardly seemed to swing it, yet the ball whispered to the boundary. Watching him live, his pick-up and follow-through both felt late: the gods had given him time, and he understood how to use it. He was a dream.

This drives at the heart of the arguments about him. I've always been fascinated by the role that aesthetics play in sport. Who can objectively know whether Gower found the game easier than Boycott? It's like trying to discover whether we all see colours the same. What's possible to perceive is that Gower made it appear easier. By physiological fluke, through the notions of art and beauty, he  looked better.

Once this was established a whole series of prejudices begin to apply. Gower's public persona as the gifted dilettante was set. Like Kevin Pietersen, he didn't seem overly bothered by getting out. Like generations of gentry, he appeared to regard cricket as a diverting way to pass the time, rather than an all-consuming obsession. Last in the nets and first out, that was David.

His county career pales when compared to Boycott's or Gooch's. He was apparently dropped from his school rugby team for 'lack of effort'. In his long-standing role as a TV presenter, he conveys the impression that the gig is another extension of an enviable lifestyle. As with his batting, charm is persuasive.

And yet... You don't score all of those runs without wanting to. No-one goes 119 Test innings without a duck by not being switched on from ball one.

Gower faced some fearsome attacks. His average and hundred count against Australia compares well with Boycott and Gooch, but against West Indies he made just one century and averaged 32, compared to Gooch's 44.83 and five hundreds, and Boycott's 45.93 and five tons. They both opened, too. It's here, against the best of all, that perhaps Gower falls short.

What is greatness anyway? It's easy to grasp when a player is considerably superior in terms of stats and longevity and success, less so when they play for a weaker side or burn bright and short. Ultimately, Gower's batting spread joy and grew a love for the game in those who watched, and that is an enduring legacy.

It's the best answer I've got, too...


Vang Le said...

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John Halliwell said...

‘What is greatness anyway? It's easy to grasp when a player is considerably superior in terms of stats and longevity and success, less so when they play for a weaker side or burn bright and short. Ultimately, Gower's batting spread joy and grew a love for the game in those who watched, and that is an enduring legacy.’ So true, OB.

I’ve just looked at a short portrait of the then active Gower by Alan Ross in his ‘Green Fading Into Blue’. Here is part of it:

‘His approach to batting, his instinct to take the bowling on from the very start, leads to a demoralisation of the bowler quite out of proportion to the runs being made. For such is the sweetness of Gower’s timing, the fluency and elegance of his strokes, that the bowler is made to appear to be doing all the work while Gower simply waves him away.

Gower’s manner of batting, his slightly vague and angelic appearance, contribute to the overall impression of a fair weather cricketer. In county matches, nowadays, it may be that his attention wanders or the demands made of him seem insufficient. But this has not been the case when he has been playing for England. Time after time he has not only redeemed an appalling start, but held the innings together for long hours against the fastest bowling.

Still, it ought not to be as a defensive cricketer that Gower is remembered. He is the most graceful batsman of his generation, who never makes an unpleasing or awkward movement at the wicket. When he leans out on the offside the ball races off his bat, though contact appears to have been minimal. His judgement of length is usually impeccable, to an extent that there is an air of inevitability about his strokeplay. He and the bowler seem accomplices in an illusory magic.’

Anonymous said...

Statistics don't tell the whole story of course but how many more Test runs would he have scored if some idiot hadn't dropped him for no good reason. A joy to watch and much more reliable than many people think

Paul Fearnley said...

Lovely stuff, as always, OB. One thing, though, wasn't it a GN500? A counterintuitive name, I know.

Qasim Ali said...

Thansk for sharing informative post about the last great batsman that England produced.
Mind Blowing and keep sharing

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