Gower, cricketer and commentator nonpareil
This year has been sensational for cricket. Most aficionados I know aver it has been the best ever, and I agree. The fare we’ve seen over the past nine-10 months has been enthralling.
The nail-biting climax to the World Cup will remain etched in memory forever, and the Ashes had more twists, turns, and suspense than a Hitchcock classic.
The start of the World Test Championship has given context and meaning to how individuals and teams perform.
Several cricketers have played with such profound intensity, panache, skill, and resourcefulness that new benchmarks have been established. Ben Stokes and Steve Smith top the group for now, and from India, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mayank Agarwal.
Sadly, this exciting phase comes laced with some sorrow for me. David Gower, stylist nonpareil in his playing days, and an enchanting commentator after his playing days, has been sent to pasture by Sky Sports. Gower and Botham are iconic figures in the sport. Frankly, I didn’t care too much for Botham as a commentator though he was a bigger player in the cricket pantheon.
Gower was different. His batting was defined by a rare and rich elegance. With bat in hand, he played strokes that would have belonged to a painter. But in commentary too, his dulcet voice, shorn of the breathless and often riotous hysteria that one often hears these days, was no less brilliant.
His vocabulary overflowed with words, his sense of imagery was delightful. The analytic quotient in his commentary, however, may not have been like Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton, the major domos today.
But Gower had style, spontaneity, ready wit, and a fine sense of repartee. Gower, without losing any seriousness while competing or commentating, saw cricket as a pursuit that must be enjoyed, though this often got him into trouble with authority.
In 1984, he came to India as the England captain, leading a team that looked far weaker than India’s. But England won the series 2-1, after losing the first Test at Bombay. His strategy and tactics came in for grudging praise by the English media, who had seen him as some sort of a dilettante. I remember the press conference he had at the Taj (Colaba) on the eve of the first Test. Chris Cowdrey was to make his debut, a decision hotly debated. Gower was asked by an Engish reporter, if I remember correctly, whether he knew enough about the new players.
“Yes, he’s Chris Cowdrey, son of MCC,’’ Gower replied with a straight face. MCC, of course, stood for Michael Colin Cowdrey, a doyen of English cricket. The English press corps wasn’t amused. “Get serious David,” one admonished him. He did, but with a laugh to spare every time, on or off the field.
The other vivid memory I have of Gower came 14-15 years later. He had retired from playing and had become part of the media. Apart from commentary, he also did fun shows for TV. For one of these (with comedian Rory McGrath), focusing on Bombay’s high life, he featured as a steward, serving drinks at a high-powered party.
I happened to be at the party too and was nonplussed to see Gower. Since he knew me a bit from the cricket circuit, he winked and took me aside. “You guys are outrageous partygoers,’’ he whispered. ``I’ve not seen so much whisky being consumed in England at one time!’’ He then spent a few more minutes explaining why wine, of which he is a connoisseur, was better than ‘horse piss’ (whisky).
Time moves on for the best of us, but I will miss Gower’s presence in commentary. Sports broadcasters are targeting young audiences, and Gower and Botham have been dispensed with. Gower mentioned somewhere that he has been hit by ‘ageism’.
That’s poppycock if you ask me.