Wednesday 14 September 2011

Summer of four captains v Summer of five captains

It was Gore Vidal, I think, who said that satire died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. If it didn't then perhaps it waited until Mitchell Johnson was voted ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2009. Yet for sheer unlikeliness the story of England's summer goes beyond both.

Jonathan Trott is the new ICC Cricketer of the Year, Alastair Cook the Test Player of the Year, England are on the verge of a clean sweep against India, and their fifth captain of the season will take charge in a couple of Twenty20 games that didn't even exist when the fixture list came out.

Yet such is the upward curve of England's reversal of fortune, the awards are deserved and hard-won; the captaincy issue has been resolved with such force of logic that continuity and victory have become seamless. It's all so un-England, isn't it...?

The summer of 1988 was the last when the captaincy changed hands as regularly, and it's a story worth retelling, because it sets in context the happy daze that now surrounds long-time England followers.

They were playing West Indies at the time, a team entering the last moments of their glory era but that still bristled with big guns: Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh and Patterson.

England were captained by Mike Gatting, who, the previous winter, had the on-field spat with Shakoor Rana. The first Test was a draw, with Gooch and Gower batting well to save it. Before the second, Gatting was sacked following an alleged fumble with a barmaid in a hotel room, an incident generally regarded as flimsy cover for revenge over the Pakistan debacle. Such was the small-mindedness of the time, Gatting's autobiography was banned from sale at cricket grounds.

John Emburey took over for the second Test. Gatting was dropped and replaced by Martyn Moxon. Phil DeFreitas was replaced by Gladstone Small. West Indies won by 134 runs. Emburey remained in charge for the third match, for which Gatting and DeFreitas were recalled, and John Childs, who was 36, and David Capel, given debuts. Derek Pringle, Paul Jarvis and Chris Broad were dropped. West Indies won by an innings and 156 runs.

Emburey was sacked and dropped. The new captain was Chris Cowdrey, who had played briefly for England in India three years previously. Cowdrey, who was as surprised as anyone, was the son of Sir Colin, a man England often turned to in times of crisis, and the godson of the chairman of selectors, Peter May. May had been on the selection panel that chose three captains for the West Indies series of 1966, one of whom was Colin Cowdrey. Paul Downton, Martyn Moxon, Mike Gatting, David Capel, Phil DeFreitas and John Childs were dropped. Derek Pringle, Neil Foster, Bill Athey and Jack Richards were recalled, and Robin Smith and Tim Curtis made their debuts. Cowdrey got nought and five and didn't take a wicket. England lost by 10 wickets.

Chris Cowdrey incurred a slight injury in a county game and was quietly moved aside. He never played for England again. Graham Gooch was appointed captain for the final Test. Allan Lamb was also injured and was replaced by Rob Bailey. Cowdrey's place went to Phil DeFreitas, and David Gower was dropped and replaced by Matthew Maynard. West Indies won by eight wickets.

The Almanack thundered: 'The morale and reputation of English cricket has seldom been as severely bruised'. But then even Wisden can't predict the future. 1988 was just the foundation for the entropic decade to come.

Mike Gatting now works for the ECB and Graham Gooch is England's batting coach and a mentor to Alastair Cook. Last week, Chris Cowdrey had a heart attack whilst in hospital to have some stitches in his knee. 'People always said I was lucky player – well, if you're going to have a heart attack anywhere the middle of a hospital is probably it,' he said.

Get well soon, Chris. Perhaps you were lucky after all. His is an odd role in England's history, but four captains or five, he knows life's not so bad.


Tony said...

I was living in England when Gatting had his run-in with Shakoor Rana. Next day in the paper (the Sun, I think) there was a picture of said rumpus underneath the headline: "Shakoor Rattle and Roll".

Brian Carpenter said...

I remember it all too well.

And memory tels me that there was a period in the field at The Oval when Gooch went off injured and Derek Pringle took over...

Russ said...

The Gooch captain thing intrigues me. If he was captain at the end of 1988, why was Gower captain by the start of 1989?

In the process of trying to find that out I pulled up England's record in the late 80s. Bleak is being kind, it is lucky they played Australia often, because from the last Ashes victory in August 1985, to the victory over New Zealand in July 1990, England played 46 games, for 4 wins! 2x Australia in 86, 1x Sri Lanka in 1988, 1x miracle West Indies in 1990. Effectively three full calendar years without a respectable win.

Okay, I knew it was bad, but that bad?

The Old Batsman said...

The other odd thing is that they didn't go on tour the following winter. Can't imagine the ECB sanctioning that...

Graeme said...

was that the year that Gooch and co did yet one more horrible tour of South Africa?...This was a real nadir of English cricket. I shudder at the memories. Chris Cowdrey as captain...and then dropped

Anonymous said...

entropic! Brilliant word. England in the 1990s got as close to absolute zero as you can in a quantum world.

Mark said...

Cowdrey does a nice after-dinner routine over the captaincy being a birthday present from Peter May, his godfather. 'Thank yoy uncle Peter, a pen & pencil set would have been fine honest!'

Pay per head said...

I gotta say that I do really love summer time especially for baseball games, I am so excited for the next summer baseball games!

ejh said...

t was Gore Vidal, I think, who said that satire died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tom Lehrer