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Manifesting batting poetry, David Gower was just a cut above Zaheer Abbas, Vishwanath

By Harsh Thakor 

A stroke of David Gower was the ultimate manifestation of the ethereal beauty of the game of cricket or reminiscent of composing cricket’s poetry. Gower simply took grace to heavenly heights, reminding one of pianist effortlessly tapping his notes of a shepherd tending his flock. Gower would caress the most lethal deliveries to the boundary ropes. He possessed talent at a volume as the very greatest of batsmen and on his day took batting craft to regions rarely scaled. Gower was possibly an equivalent of an Anglo-Saxon Ranjitsinghji, with a subtle touch of oriental wizardry.
Gower burst on the cricket scene in the 1970’s after being educated at Kings School, Canterbury, at Tunbridge Wells. He spent much of his early life in East Africa .He gained his first class cricket baptism with Leicestershire in 1975.

Cricketing Career

Gower stroked the first ball he faced in test cricket for a boundary; playing against Pakistan in 1978.In Australia in 1978-79 he gave glimpses of his endowed batting gift against a second string bowling attack. Gower demonstrated his razor sharp reflexes and flowing style.
In 1979 against India Gower came into his own playing against India at Edgbaston in 1979, when scoring an unbeaten 200. , which paved way for an innings win for England. Gower blended the grace of a violinist with the concentration and methodology of an architect constructing a monument. At Lords he scored 82 and finished the series averaging above 73.
In Australia in 1979-80 Gower hardly registered a notable score, but his unbeaten 98 at Perth in the 2nd test was a gem. I can’t forget the manner he singlehandedly held the fort on a wet track, simply toying with the likes of Dennis Lillee, with a series of sublime strokes.
Gower was out of form against West Indies at home in 1980 but touring the Caribbean in 1981, he gave of batting’s finest exhibitions confronting the great West Indies pace bowling battery. At Kingston, he scored an unbeaten 154 to resurrect England who were tottering in dire straits to safety. Very hard to conceive the likes of Holding, Roberts, Croft and Garner being taken to the sword or shreds with such consummate ease. He averaged a healthy 53. In that series, aggregating 376 runs.
In 1981 Gower failed in home Ashes series apart from an 80+ score at Lords.
In 1981-82 in India although not making a century. Gower scored a string of four fifties. Rarely did any batsmen or left-hander display more composure in India, similar to a Gundappa Vishwanath , the other way round.
In 1982 season playing against India and Pakistan, when scoring fifties, Gower looked a class act. When scoring 72 at Edgbaston and 75 not out at Leeds, his batting skill was as adept as any great, stroking the ball all around the ground facing Imran Khan at his quickest ,in most testing conditions .Those fifties shaped an eventual series win for England, with his 75 scored in a precarious situations, with England’s back to the wall.
In 1982-83 Gower possibly played top pace bowling in Australia with more composure than any overseas batsmen, playing the likes of Geoff Lawson and Dennis Lille with overwhelming authority. His 72 at Perth was classic in it’s own right, on the fastest of wickets, executing every stroke in the book. Simply an epitome of batting prowess and finest exhibitions facing a bouncing ball. At Adelaide he scored 114, taking domination against pace bowling to heights rarely penetrated. Overall he averaged above 44 in the series. I doubt any left hander displayed such consummate ease when bating down under.
In the 1982-83 Triangular ODI tournament when scoring 158 against New Zealand Gower took cricketing prowess or domination to heights rarely scaled.
In the 1983 world cup at home Gower topped the averages and aggregate scoring 384 runs at 76.80.He simply tormented and flayed bowlers like Richard Hadlee or Abdul Qadir .
In 1983 Gower was an epitome of consistency against New Zealand at home but failed against the Kiwis in 1984 away.
Gower batted like a champion in Pakistan in 1984, averaging above 112 and amassing 449 runs..He scored a 152 at Faisalabad and173 not out at Lahore amidst dire straits, conquering turning tracks with exemplary mastery. It gave echoes of the all-time great left-handed batsmen from overseas, playing in the subcontinent.
He failed at home against West Indies in 1984. In India in 1984-85 he only made a few notable scores. Still in his debut series as skipper in India in 1984 he led England to a 2-1 series victory, which was a major accomplishment. However he was back with a bang when amassing 732 runs at an average over 81 in a home Ashes series. He scored 166 at Trent Bridge, 215 at Edgbaston and 157 at the Oval. Gower simply governed proceedings in the manner of an emperor plundering territories. The likes of Geoff Lawson and Craig McDermott were torn apart. Gower combined his great natural talent with strong powers of concentration, to become of the most prolific batsmen ever in an Ashes series. Above all he led England as a captain in that edition of the Ashes.
In West Indies in 1986 he was inconsistent but gave flashes of his brilliance like when scoring a scintillating 90.
In 1986 he was not at his best against India but was consistency personified against New Zealand, averaging over 58.In Australia in 1986-87 when relinquishing captaincy to Mike Gatting, he averaged above 57, shaping England’s retaining the Ashes.
In 1987, 1988 and 1989 apart from occasional sparkles, Gower was hardly impactful against Pakistan, West Indies and Australia, respectively.
In 1990 versus India Gower stage managed a comeback when scoring match saving 157 not out, in the final test at the Oval .Simply rearguard action at it’s best, with England placed in dire straits. Overall, he averaged above 72 in that series.
In 1990-91 in the Ashes in Australia Gower scored 407 runs averaging around 45, playing top pace with assurance few left-handers ever did. His willow manifested the notes of a musical instrument, in the hardest circumstances, when compiling 2 centuries.
In 1992 at home against Pakistan ,he faced possibly the best fast bowling duo ever, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus, averaging above 50.It was revelation witnessing Gower simply caress the best ever exponents of reverse swing, when scoring fifties. His 73 at Old Trafford was a masterpiece.

Assessment

David Gower hardy did justice to the talent he was gifted with. Often he simply looked aloof or out of touch and recklessness was frequent tendency in his batting. Gower could often appear casual, carefree or reckless with lazy footwork. More than often he threw his wicket away and often appeared laid back.
He ended his test career aggregating 8231 runs at an average of 44.25 with 18 centuries in 117 tests and 204 innings. Significantly he averaged over 46 away, in comparison to 42 at home.
In ODI’s Gower scored 3170 runs at an average of 30.88, which also di scant justice to his potential.
Unlike most cricket greats Gower was the anti-thesis of a laborious figure, and hardly went through hard rigours of net practice.
Possibly dissensions within the tem or politics got the better of him ,like his tussles with former skipper Graham Gooch .He was also over criticized for playing his natural game.
A folly, blemish or blackmark in h is carer was arguably when he set out to take a ride on a Tiger Moth plane for sightseeing in Queensland in the 1990-91 Ashes series, and was reprimanded for evading dressing room duty. Officials felt it acted against the team’s discipline. The manner he was dismissed to the most casual of strokes in the 4th test of that series, similar to giving catch practice when holing out to deep backward square leg, testified how in junctures he literally gave a damn to his batting.
Although it was remarkable that he led England to win as series in India in 1984-85, a feat not emulated by any team outside the sub-continent till South Africa in 2000; and a home Ashes triumph in 1985; Gower could hardly bind English cricket towards progress, as a skipper. Under him England received a washout in West Indies in 1986 and a 2-0 drubbing by India, at home, in 1986.
Notable that Gower scored 746 runs at an average of around 43 in the West Indies , notching the highest aggregate by an batsmen on Caribbean soil, in the period of the great pace quartet.
In my view, no middle order batsmen after Viv Richards, so effortlessly or with such assurance dealt with genuine pace, in the 1980’s, as David Gower. Gower also average above 44 on the fast .bouncy Australian tracks.
To me Gower possessed pure natural ability in the league of a Brian Lara or Viv Richards. Dennis Lillee rated Gower only behind Viv Richards and Gary Sobers, amongst batsmen he bowled to, rating him harder proposition to bowl to than Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Greg Chappell! In my view, in pure talent, Gower was only behind Brian Lara amongst left-handed batsmen, and overall amongst the dozen most gifted batsmen of all time, joining the league of a Lara, Kanhai, Viv Richards, Bradman or Tendulkar.Often Gower reminded me of a left-handed version of Rohan Kanhai.
I would categorise Gower with the likes of flawed geniuses lik Rohan Kanhai, Majid Khan and Gundappa Vishwanath who were endowed with natural talent of the Brian Lara class, but failed to join the club of the greatest as a result of temperament.
No batsmen when tackilng the fiery pace quartet of the West Indies, as much manifested the sheer aesthecism or beauty of batting or took batting’s golden or sublime touch to such a scale, with his different strokes like parts of a musical conjeto. As a stylist he was at the top of the three not only of left-handed batsmen, but debatably amongst all batsmen. Gower would join the club of a Frank Worrell, Zaheer Abbas, Gundappa Vishwanath or Dennis Compton, similar to a left-handed equivalent of all those batting artists. Commentator Henry Blofeld lists David Gower with his most entertaining cricketers of all.
At his best in a crisis, Gower could compile classics, like he did in West Indies, Australia and Pakistan, batting on with unflinching resilience to hold the fort, but still manifesting elegance at it’s superlative height.
Overall amongst left handers Gower would rank behind Brian Lara, Gary Sobers Graeme Pollock, Alan Border, Kumar Sangakkara and Neil Harvey, and on par with Clive Lloyd. Overall I would place Gower in the category of Colin Cowdrey, Peter May or Graham Gooch and just a cut above likes of Zaheer Abbas or Vishwanath.
Gary Sobers feels it is wrong to class David Gower as ‘truly great.’ and was just a very good ‘ player, However late cricket writer John Woodcock class him as a ‘true great’ and so did late Christopher Martin Jenkins.. Deservedly they selected Gower amongst their 75 best cricketers of all, in around 70th place. West Indies pace bowlers Michael Holding selected Gower in his all-time test team and so did Syed Kirmani. Gower would scrape into my Test World XI of the 1980’s, joining likes of Viv Richards,Javed Miandad and Alan Border. Pardoning his inconsistency when I consider his batting record against the very best and his revival of the golden age of batting I would tag Gower in the ‘great’ category. Still Gower would miss out on being clubbed with all-time great English batsmen like Walter Hammond or Jack Hobbs or join the league of Viv or Tendulkar. If Gower had blended the concentration and dedication of Geoffrey Boycott then he would be very close to the best batsmen of all time.
After retiring Gower turned into a very profound commentator, giving most illustrative descriptions and most insightful and precise analysis. He also wrote a book about his 50 greatest cricketers, which is masterly compilation of work. It does fitting justice to cricketers of all eras; although it tilts towards favouring batsmen.
---
Harsh Thakor is Freelance Journalist who has extensively studied Cricket history

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