Couch Talk 172 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is former England captain David Gower. He talks about handling the big egos within his team, how he was managed as a young player, and the accusation of him not trying hard on the field as he made batting look easy, amongst other things. Thanks for being on the show, David. It is an absolute pleasure having you on!
Would it be would fair to say that Cricket is a fiercely individualistic sport masquerading as a team sport?
David Gower (DG)– It is certainly both, definitely both, because individual performances are highlighted. The man who gets hundreds or loads of wickets, 5 plus wickets are feted. The man who gets thousands of runs is feted. The man who takes 800 Test wickets is feted. Amongst it all, especially nowadays, the mantra is, when someone is interviewed at the end of the day, “I’m really pleased with myself”, but they don’t really say that a lot, but mention that “the team is in a good position”. It is the perfect blend. Yes, as an individual you are always in the spotlight.
SJ– But the system – whether it be the team mates or the management or the fans, whoever it may be – they look down upon those that are ‘individualistic’ players. if you are a superstar, you are a superstar. But, they look down upon the fact that you behave like a superstar.
DG– It is a game which encourages people to behave properly if they possibly can. I think those that understand the psychology and know what it is to be at the top or close to the top, know that there are times, to be honest, when a certain arrogance actually helps. But there is a fine line between arrogance that makes you a better player, i.e. self belief, that you need as a batsman to take on the fastest bowlers, to believe that you can play the likes of Shane Warne or Abdul Qadir from my times – special bowlers; and to give the impression that you are in command, that is part of the psychology of being a good sportsman. What people don’t like, of course, is when arrogance spills over off the field, out of the game, where someone appears to be above himself. There are a lot of examples of people saying that the game is more important – which it is, it will always be. But, there is a very fine balance. The other thing of course, is that the moment you get ahead of yourself, then around the corner will be 2-3 weeks or months when the game wins. As a batsman you can’t get a run; as a bowler you can’t get wickets. It really tests not your arrogance or yourself, but it tests your self-belief, it tests your inner mettle. That is when the game becomes tough.
SJ– How did you handle that as a teammate, and as a captain? With players having the ego, what was your philosophy in handling them personally?
DG– Well, without being rude about it, the best example that I can offer you form my era is Ian Botham. Ian has, to his credit immense self-belief and a great ability to hide any self-doubts. I once asked him on a Q & A stage, “Have you ever had a moment of self-doubt?” and he answered, “No.” Privately I know, like the rest of us, he has human qualities. There must have been moments like in the era when the great West Indians were all powerful, there must have been moments when you question your abilities, there must have been self-doubt. But he has that great ability to deny it. It is a strength, because he comes to play the following day with the previous day being good or bad, believing that things will go well and he can do stuff on the cricketing field that other people can’t do. That is what has served him well throughout the best part of his 20 years of international cricket. You need that sort of resilience.
As a captain, within my side, there were other players, and almost by definition the lesser players, would see the way I would react to Ian or treat him as Ian and it would be different to others. I was afraid I believe that each individual is different. You can’t treat Ian Botham like someone who has just come into the Test side. if Ian Botham has played 100 Test matches his way, he kind of knows what he is doing, and the proof is in the pudding that it worked, by and large for him through his Test career. Someone who has just come into the Test side, I am not going to give him the same leeway as Ian Botham, but I am going to respect what people need.
For instance, my example, there was a tour when I went to India in 1984/85, when I didn’t have Ian in the team. We had a successful tour in the end. It was a tough tour for all sorts of reasons, but a successful tour. One of the people who was part of that successful tour was Graeme Fowler – left handed opener. (Graham) Gooch wasn’t there, for political reasons. So, Graeme came on the tour, got a double hundred in Madras and was very proud of it, quite rightly so. One of the things that he and I discussed after that tour…he said that for the first time one that tour someone, the captain i.e. me, treated him as a grown up. He was used to being a young player, he had a reputation to be slightly flippant and slightly childish. He said it was the first time someone treated him like an adult and it allowed him to do what he wanted in terms of preparation and that gave him some confidence to believe in himself. That is what I want him to do. If I have had one success as a captain, that was one example.
Mike Gatting is another example, giving him responsibility as vice-captain and to bat at no. 3, that worked well for Mike. If I had one applying principle, it was to give people responsibility for their own actions and if need be, help them along.
SJ– From your career, as a player, as you came into the team and you rose to the ranks, you became who you are now – how was that handled by the others around you?
DG– Good question! I had a sad duty the other day to go to the funeral of Mike Turner, who was the secretary man and boss at Leicestershire, my first club, who was extraordinarily good in my career. Both personally, with me, behind the scenes, with what used to be the TCCB which is now the ECB. He promoted me avidly through his career and therefore through my career. I didn’t always respect that at that time, I gave him problems now and again. But there was a nice line at that service, where Lawrie Potter who gave the eulogy said, “Mike always said that David gave him the most pleasure but also the most problems”. It is an interesting mix. I confess that there were times when I was a bit of a problem child. But I had people like Mike looking after my career; I had Ray Illingworth – a stunningly good captain, a tough man, Ashes winner in Australia in 1970 probably the finest hour for him. A tough nut. We were at completely different ends of the scale, as much as socially possible. I always got along well with him. We had a bit of fun together. There were also half a dozen or more seniors and professionals at the club at Leicestershire – they all gave me good advice. Ray said his job was to basically turn me from a gifted amateur to a gifted professional. I had to learn about the professional game. The amateur game is great fun. If you’re good as a young man. I won’t say it was quite easy, but it was quite fun – you score a lot of runs, but it is not the professional game. But I had to learn very quickly, it was drummed into me by people like Ray, good hard senior pros at Leicestershire, that something needed to be changed.
SJ– In terms of England and the teammates and the captains that you have had, you were enormously gifted batsman. How was that handled? There is one thing about talent and production on the field and the success and glory that comes along with it. They may be equally talented, perhaps not. But there must have been some friction. How was that handled?
DG– Not much friction. Leicestershire had Ray Illingworth, and when I started for England, it was Mike Brearley. Both very good, both magnificent cricket brains. When I played my first two years of Test cricket, Mike was gently keen to make sure that as I got fifty, maybe I could make it more, a hundred maybe. Very early he said to me “Test cricket is for five days, and if you play well you get 34-50 or wherever it may be and you enjoyed it. But the business of Test cricket is to make bigger runs.” The first two years went by and large pretty well then we went for the West Indies and found it a bit tougher. Then, I got dropped and came back. In the meantime I had made a double hundred against India. You realise that you can do these sort of things but haven’t made it a habit. You learn about maximising. I look back at figures and still look back at days and think “I could have done better on that day, and that day, and that day, just by putting up more of a fight on the day.” They are a lot of things you look back on. Yes, there is a lot of pride, but if you are going to be picky about yourself there are a lot of days in my career which could have been better.
SJ– You had said in an interview earlier that there were days that you didn’t want to be there. Was it the grind of professional cricket or was it something else?
DG– I think it would be wrong to call it the grind, because to play something like cricket for a living at the highest level, it shouldn’t be a grind. It should be a pleasure, it should be an honour. But I think that I have to admit I was a human frailty here. The thing that is hard to quantify is the desire at the start of the day. There are days, we were speaking today at the Oval on a sunny day and it looks like a day you want to play cricket. There are other days you get out of the bed and think that you don’t want to do anything today. You then have to force yourself to do something, talk to yourself sternly and build yourself up. The truth is, although there are some players out there, some very good professional for whom each day at the office is a pleasure, it is their job and they do their utmost to get it right. Then, there were days when it didn’t work. That is completely human failing, no more no less. I will try if you have to walk out to bat, the last stretch that you have got – the 75 yards that you have got from the edge of the field to arrive at the stumps to try and get yourself into the mood. If you aren’t in the mood already, that was a long time. I confess, there were days when days when you try and get in there and maybe if I have to stay in there for twenty minutes, something will click into place. Some days it did, some days it didn’t. Some days you come out of it and think “Sorry, there is nothing I could do about that. i wasn’t in the mood.” Other days, you were clinging for a place, you end up getting a hundred”, and you think “Thank heaven for that. How did that happen!” and then you have your perfect days when you wake up in the morning and say, “I want to do this today” You look at the pitch and think “This is my pitch.” You look at the bowlers and think “These are my bowlers.” You look at the bat and feel this is a really good bat, and it is wonderful.
SJ– Going back to the earlier talk about handling people with talent and ego. When the Kevin Pietersen saga was unfolding here did you see any parallels between how it was handled by the England captains and the management and media with how your situations were? Did you have some sympathy for him?
DG– I have some sympathy for Kevin. When I look at Kevin Pietersen, I look at him as a man with enormous talent with great capacity to entertain the crowds and to even enthral other players. I suspect he has said and done things that he had rather not done or said. I suspect he’s been badly advised.
When things were working well for him – stunning player. The things that struck me at the start of the current summer, when Andrew Strauss said “Sorry Kevin, but you are not going to play.” There were things that built up to that that made it completely logical. For instance, whatever happened in Australia, and they never seemed to find the smoking gun, there was obviously something – irritation or something stronger – who knows. If we go back a little further, when Pietersen came back into the side, Alastair Cook said he wanted him in the side, he was ‘rehabilitated”, and he got runs in India. That was fine, that worked great. That was a stunning performance both by Pietersen with the bat and by Cook as a captain who thought that he was better with Pietersen in the side and see how he can work with him. Then, by the end of Australia tour, and at the start of the next summer, where were the voices from within saying “He is a stunning player, I want him in my side”? Even Alistair Cook went quiet, suggesting that there was an issue there that was insurmountable.
Then, there was the book, with excoriation of everyone he ever played with, including all his England colleagues bar none pretty much, which basically for most people would be acknowledged as a retirement gesture. You can’t write that sort of book and think that three or four months later when you have done your book tours and banked the money, you can play with the same people again. Because, it doesn’t work that way. There was a lot of hype about it, and the interesting thing here is that the people who had come to watch weren’t too fussed about all that. They are not involved in dressing room politics, they don’t sit in the dressing room and see what is going on, they want him to come onto the park and hit the ball all over the park and entertain them. A lot of people I’ve spoken to said, “We like him in the side because he is a really good player.” I said, “Fair enough, but what about all these things that I just mentioned to you?” They said that it was “potentially a problem, I can’t tell you for sure because I am not in the dressing room.” .
At the end of it, the pressure would have been enormous had England not won the Ashes. If they’d come second by a distance, “Where was Pietersen?” would have been asked. Not saying he wouldn’t have made a difference, but at least England had won the Ashes, Joe Root had made a lot of runs and someone – as always the case, this is what the game does – comes through. Joe Root is not a Kevin Pietersen, but he is a very, very good player. He is a mighty fine player. He is someone who I can hope will do good for the years to come.
SJ– You made batting look ridiculously easy. And you mentioned Ian Bell. From India, there is Rohit Sharma. When you guys are on, you are ON and you make it look so ridiculously easy. But then, you get out and people say that you didn’t work hard enough. With no disrespect to people like Rahul Dravid, or Steve Waugh, they had the struggle that a common fan could relate to. Whereas you guys made it look effortless, getting the credit and the blame just as much. How did you handle that?
DG– It always pains to explain to people that it is a very complicated mental process. You gear yourself to face someone like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner and the extreme pace of the West Indies or the Indian spinners in India or Adbul Qadir in Pakistan, the various challenges that the game throws up – they are all different, they all test you and they all need you to be mentally sharp. Every time you are not, of course you run the risk of failure.
When people came to me and said “You are not trying!”, I said, “honestly, I am”. Ironically some of the worst times, when you try so hard that you end up trying too hard and instead of letting your natural instincts let you do well, you are trying to look at your own mechanics and force your body to do things. When you get to that stage, it is ugly, in fact it is not going to work. You spend, in essence, as a player your formative years training your instincts and when you play at your best it is because your instincts are at 100%. It is working and the judgment are good when the instincts are working alongside it. Things like shot selection, patience, the whole blend is there as perfectly as it can be.
When it goes wrong, and let’s face it – the difference between success and failure is the two inches between the middle of the bat and the edge of the bat…it is not far. When someone is bowling at 90mph and you have 0.4 sec to get your decision spot on- when you analyse it that way, it is quite easy to say that mistakes are rather more likely than getting it right. So, you must be a whole lot proud that you get it right so often. Those are the things you have to do. The first man who is first disappointed when you get out for none, is you. The man just after that, who is equally disappointed is the bloke who paid his £20 or £30 or more to come and watch it. If you happen to see him after the game, he says “I am really disappointed you didn’t get any runs today.” It is a tough moment because you have to respect that people do pay, they want to be entertained and they have people who they want to come and see. If it happens to be you, and you failed, then that’s it – you failed them on that day. They might watch on television again, but on that day, that was meant to be a special day but you let them down. You let yourself down or the team down, and you let [the fans] down as well.
SJ– Finally… Richie Benaud passed away recently. He had two careers – one as a player-captain and then as a commentator. And now, you have been in the media for 20+ years. Soon enough people will remember David Gower for his commentary career, anchoring shows than the playing career. How long do you think you can do in this?
DG– I hope that I can do for a long, long time yet. It keeps me going very, very nicely. I love doing it. in the end, you worked as a player-broadcaster, for 40+ years. it is a long association with the game, but it is a friendly and happy association with the game. i am very happy about that. i enjoy the people we work with. i enjoy the whole mechanics, the atmosphere, I enjoy being at the cricket. When you see the whole thing happening, developing, there is no way I want to stop doing this. Absolutely none. I hope they almost have to shoot me and carry me out, before it comes to a nasty end. So, I am very happy to carry on doing this as long as they will have me. It struck me the other day when someone asked me how long I have been doing this. Twenty two years as broadcaster full time, and 18 years as a professional cricketer. This [broadcasting] has outstretched past the playing career. The time is flying by us. The only thing to worry is that the time is flying by.
SJ– On that note, David, thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
DG– It was my pleasure.
Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman