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Laid-back and larger than life

Submitted by on Saturday, 11 April 2009No Comment
Laid-back and larger than life

England legend David Gower has one or two regrets in a colourful, controversial career — but the Tiger Moth incident isn’t one of them.

You have some connection with South Africa, in that you used to come out to Londolozi. What were the circumstances?

Yes, there was a purple patch where I kept being invited to SA for dinners and to do talks in the off season. So I would always take a few days extra and go up to Londolozi. Of all the game, I love leopards the most and Londolozi is special for leopards. I could go up there and drive myself around. It was absolutely brilliant, first thing in the morning to go out and follow where the tracker suggested, with no restrictions and timetables. It goes back to my early upbringing in East Africa, when I was about six and became interested in the bush. But now we tend to have to wait for the tours to come out to your part of the world; when I will come out and commentate. Oh and my other connection with SA is I am also good friends with the, ‘South African’ born, England cricketer, Mr Alan Lamb (laughs).

Where in east Africa were you brought up?

My father worked for the Colonial Service in Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika. I was only there until I was six. We returned to England after Tanzania was granted Independence.

Before we go to cricket – I see you were a director of an internet wine company. Are you still part of that?

No. My involvement was limited anyway. The guy who set it up wanted me to do a bit of PR for it. He then got out of the business. After a couple of months the new boss chap phoned me up and said, ‘Look we are going to be cutting back. Would you mind terribly if we sacked you?’ Thus ended my involvement in the wine business – from the commercial side.

Despite your 18 centuries for England; despite your 117 matches; despite captaining England to regain the Ashes in 1985 and besides having the third highest career run total, you are more often remembered for the Tiger Moth incident in Australia. Tell me about that.

Funny that. During the 1991 Ashes Tour in Australia, England were playing a warm up match in Queensland, when John Morris and myself decided to pop across the road to a nearby airfield and have a flip in a Tiger Moth. They had been flying over the field all afternoon. Anyway we buzzed the match where Lamb and Smith were batting – they knew it was us, but no one else did. We thought it would be a quiet prank and we’d be back in no time. But somehow the press got onto it and eventually everybody knew about it. When we saw the management guys next morning; it was like a court case – a complete over-reaction as far as I was concerned. It all seemed to go with my perceived attitude; my not fitting in with their regime. I was fined £1000 for my part in that little escapade.

The incident was slightly exacerbated by them playing, ‘Those magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’, when you walked out to the crease in the fourth test in Adelaide. Did you have anything to do with that?

No – I had nothing to do with it. There was nothing in that for me to be such a prat as to organize that. I just wanted to get on and make some runs. I needed 30 odd runs to beat Boycott’s record. But it all just completely fell apart and I never got them until much later. In the final test in Perth I had Gooch coming in and giving me some sort of diatribe about people not trying. Of course I was f-ing trying! ‘If not for you, I was definitely trying for me,’ I said to him. So it all fell apart. We completely lost it.

You had a few public spats with Graham Gooch. In fact the strained relationship you had with him lead to you retiring, in many people’s minds, prematurely. How do you get on with him today, given that like you, he also does a lot of media work?

We get on fine. It’s interesting but my nearest and dearest and close mates and supporters seem to bear grudges longer. There is absolutely no problem when I see him. Not so long after we had our battles, a county game we were both playing in got rained out. It was near where he lived, so he invited me out for dinner. I rang my missus and said ‘You’ll never guess where I am…’ and she was hugely surprised.

Another incident that always seems to be mentioned when your name comes up is the hire car on Lake St Moritz. What happened there?

I was in St Moritz to have another crack at the Cresta run (tobogganing). I was trying to break my personal best and the Daily Mirror sent along a reporter and photographer to record the attempt. I failed. But while there – after dinner one night – I decided to engage in some rallying practice with a hire car on the ice – the lake was frozen. I had the press guys in the car with me. Well on our last little burst of power-sliding, the ice turned a different colour – meaning it was thinner – because we had got too close to where the lake joins the river. The long and short of it being the ice was very thin there and the car sank through it. Problem was, for some obscure reason the press reported that one set of footprints from the car must have been made by a woman. Well you can imagine how well that went down with my then fiancé, when the newspaper arrived. But by and large, having agreed to meet all the salvage costs I got away with it.

Back to cricket. Like Graeme Pollock you batted left-handed, but you are actually right handed.

Yes. I was ambidextrous in the field, but when I played hockey or golf I did so right handed. I also write and kick right handed. Oh and of course I bowl a right hand off break.

How do you feel about the advent of 20/20 cricket?

Well, I would have had a bit of fun with it at the age of twenty, and been mighty pissed off with it by the time I was thirty. The difference is this – if I had started now, I would have realised there was a lot of money in 20/20; so as a professional I would have paid a bit of attention to it. And of course now with the IPL 20/20 series there is more money than ever in cricket for the guys who can get into that format. The one day internationals in my time didn’t make a lot of difference to our well being in money terms. They were still there to be won, there was a bit of kudos, but they never felt as important as a test match.

The events surrounding Kevin Peterson in the last 6 months have tended to hog the headlines – what are your views on his situation?

He is good copy for all sorts of reasons. He is an extraordinary player, which in itself makes him newsworthy and he is very professional in what he does to prepare and play. But he is good to listen to, because he will always say something that isn’t quite right. He will be good for awhile, but he will always talk bollocks at some stage. I sometimes feel he is his own worst enemy. Just when he starts regaining lost ground he does something that rocks the boat again. But he is certainly not dull and he is not stupid.

When things went wrong for you during your career how did you deal with it?

The one thing you can’t do when things go wrong – is shut it away completely. The best you can do, is distract yourself from the emotion of it, by remembering there are other things to get on and do. For instance the West Indies Tour of 86,’ where we started with hopes of being competitive. I had high hopes we could do well. Well we got completely trounced – all the wheels fell off. This meant that every aspect of the tour was minutely dissected by the press and blown out of proportion. I mean if I went out for dinner and the press spotted me; the next day the stories were almost, ‘How dare he go out and have dinner?’ I really felt quite battered by the whole thing. It was very difficult to deal with. But I suppose I just had to handle it.

Did you ever doubt yourself?

Through that first period as captain; when we won in India, then in Australia when we regained the Ashes, people were writing wonderful things about me. But then we got trounced by the West Indians and everyone was writing me off. At that time, to stop doubting myself, I had to dissect the various reports and decide there must be something good about what I was doing. Even though it went wrong there were times when it went right and I often had to remind myself about that.

Someone wrote that, ‘Gower retired from cricket prematurely into a career as a TV personality, so successful that his cricket seemed mere preparation.’ What’s your comment on that?

Well I thoroughly enjoy commentating. I have done a fair amount of TV work. I was a captain of a team on the BBC comedy sport’s quiz, ‘They Think It’s All Over’. And I presented a number of series of a cricket magazine show called, ‘Gower’s Cricket Monthly’. There are many similarities to playing. It’s a performance of sorts. You have days when things click into place and happen and of course days where quite often your mind goes blank. Although playing is more emotional; there’s not really an equivalent of getting a hundred or of getting a duck when you are commentating. If I get my first word wrong at 10.30, I don’t have to wait till the next morning to come back and redeem myself.

You are one of a few cricketers to have been called for throwing in test cricket. What happened?

We were one ball away from losing a test match. But it was a deliberate chuck. I didn’t have an inherently flawed action. They needed one run, so I thought, ‘Here I’ll give you a run rather than you score a run’. The match was done and dusted. But I regret doing it – it was a crass thing to do; not very clever at all.

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