Couch Talk 170 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former England captain Mike Gatting. He talks about his growth as a batsman, the ’84-’85 tour to India where he scored his first Test hundred, and his memories from winning back to back Ashes, and the rebel tour to South Africa, amongst other things. Welcome to the show, Mr. Gatting!
Mike Gatting (MG)– Thank you!
SJ– When I announced on the social media that you were going to be on the show, a lot of people sent in questions. A lot of them were about Shane Warne’s ball of the century and the reverse sweep in the 1987 World Cup. Do you feel sick and tired or do you feel that you are a part of cricket history? How do you look at it?
MG– Look, cricket is history, every match we play becomes history. It is that, it is nothing else. You are a part of history. It is there, it is done, and there are no qualms back there. It is nice that people remember that, I suppose. I like to remember some other things as well, it wasn’t just all about the Shane Warne ball and the reverse sweep in the final. It was one of those things. I am happy it happened to me. So, when people ask you about it, at least they remember.
SJ– But, do you look back on things and say that you get a fair shake from cricket fans of the past and present?
MG– The fans are generally very, very good. I have never had any problem with them at all. They are nice people generally. They love their cricket. I was fortunate enough to play cricket and enjoy, as well. so, the fact that they enjoyed watching cricket, being a part of cricket – a lot of them were very knowledgeable. I am comfortable with that. It is nice to be a part of it.
SJ– You come across as a happy-go-lucky guy. But, what was your outlook when you were a player, as well as a captain?
MG– I took the game very seriously. It was a privilege to be able to play sport for a living. There are a lot of people who couldn’t do that while being passionate about the game, I was one of those fortunate. I try to work hard at my game. I like to win if I could. If suddenly they play better on the game, you got to shake them by the hand and say, “Well done! You played better than we did.” I was always working hard at the games that I had to. I wasn’t quite as good a player as the (David) Gowers in this world, the Sachin Tendulkars of the world, but I know they too had to work hard to be as good as they were. I tried to work hard, good work ethics, and try to enjoy – I did, enormously – as well at the same time because you must try and enjoy it. it is a long series, you have to relax yourself out there and have some fun.
SJ– You had a 17 year England carer and played 79 Tests and your average is about 35. Just strictly looking at the numbers you would say it was a middling career. But, as you mentioned, you were bracketed alongside (Graham) Gooch and Gower as one of the best England batsmen of the time. when you look back, do you say, “Boy, I should have done more!”?
MG– Yeah, there was one thing that I looked at, if I looked at the back end and front end of my career, it would have been nice to have started a bit better than I did. It was one of those things that happen that wasn’t very pleasing for me, after a few matches I managed to get to where i should be. I played in a team that was a great team to play in. we had great fun and we played some good cricket. I had some nice time. I would have liked to get a few more runs playing for England. That is life. If you don’t get the things right that you need, then you end up not doing perhaps as well as you might. It took me a bit more time to realise that I could and should. After that, it was a little bit easier than it was before.
SJ– It took upto 54th Test inning when you scored your first Test hundred – 136 against India in Mumbai. I want to talk about that inning particularly – how you handled (Laxman) Sivaramakrishnan. But, being a batsman, there is a mental thing – I am sure there might have been self-doubts, whether you might ever get a Test century. Was there a phase in your career before that where you wondered whether it was going to happen?
MG– Yeah, I suppose it wasn’t about getting hundred. I was getting hundreds in county cricket. I knew what to do. it was probably a question about where you need a little bit of luck to get you through to where you need to get to. After that, it is a bit like county cricket – once you get past that little barrier, that’s it, it is gone. The gremlin on your shoulder is knocked off the perch. At last you can believe, and now you can do when you know how to do it. That was what it was to a degree. Just playing in a team with Gower, for example, was very influential in the fact that he was the captain. Probably a lot of people didn’t want me to go on that tour to India. But, he said that he wanted me out there and he probably gave me that little bit of confidence that I needed that I couldn’t quite produce myself. He certainly made it much easier for me. He said “You are going to play in all 5 Test matches and you are going to bat at #3. If it doesn’t work out, I would bat at #3 and you can bat at #5 in the other two (Tests). You will play all 5.” That stability helped. i suspect that the way they do in England, it does give people a lot more stability.
SJ– Going back to that innings in Mumbai, you scored 136.
MG– We lost the Test, though.
SJ– England lost the Test, yes. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan took 6-fer in both innings and he said that when you were walking away after being dismissed, the press box stood up and applauded. How did you see your innings?
MG– We were trying to save a Test match. I was trying to get on in the Test, actually. There was a huge disruption during the time because Indira Gandhi got assassinated, the high commissioner got assassinated. We went off to Sri Lanka and bombs were going off. In many ways it might have helped me because the focus wasn’t really on cricket, it wasn’t really there to a degree. But, as they say, you just needed a bit of luck. You are getting closer every time. I was comfortable playing spin, so it wasn’t a problem. It was a very good pitch, with a bit of turn. It was something that I had gotten my head around by that time. I needed to repay some debts of gratitude to people.
SJ– You talked about how good you were in playing spin. How did that happen? You grew up in English conditions and how did you end up being good at playing spin? Look at the current England middle order – they play seaming balls pretty decently but against spinners they look suspect.
MG– When I first started playing as a young lad, I had a coach who bowled leg spin at me. It was a bouncy pitch by my club side. So, because I was quite small, rather than him bowling seam, he would bowl these leggies, and flippers and googlies at me. So, I was quite good just watching the hands. But, I couldn’t play off-spinners. I played left-armers okay though. So, I had to spend a lot of time in the nets with people like John Emburey and Phillip Edmonds and Fred Titmus, and just work out a way of playing them. That was where i thought I should try and use my feet a bit. Sweep was a shot that I played OK. But trying to get out, trying to get the pads out of the way so I can go after the ball, and use the bats rather than the pads to play the ball. In those days we had 6 – 3 field with 6 on the leg side, which you can’t these days. There were only 3 over there on the off. In the end, I always stayed to the leg side of the ball. They would still be bowling to me outside off.
SJ– Talking about spin – the 4th Test match in Madras, you and Foxy (Graeme) Fowler had a huge partnership. First of all, he and Tim Robinson had a good opening partnership. You and Foxy got double hundreds, and that was one of my childhood traumatising memories. You went on to win the Test series, and then you were the captain winning the Ashes and then you won an ashes here as well. What were some of your fond memories of those three Test series wins?
MG– The one in India, having been one nil down was a fun memory. We did play well as a team and it was very interesting to see what was going on. i always remember – it was probably the last time I saw a bit Indian crowd at a Test match. We would see them at the Cup final at Calcutta – 100,000. But, it was really great to play in front of a great crowd in India. They like their cricket, they are very knowledgeable, and it was great to see. Sadly, those days have gone. So, for me, it was the passion and the ability to love the cricket. You walk down the street, they knew who you were. They know you, they know your records. For me, that was it. Just the whole passion in the country for the game. they were some of the memories that I have. Obviously, also the double hundred. Foxy, he was good…
It was interesting because when we were talking about trying to win a Test match, at Madras it could be one of the wickets where we could have a chance. But we didn’t expect tt bowl India out before the close of play on day one. They did play some interesting shots, though. so, we just said, “Right, we just have to bat for two days.” and that is what we set out to do and we managed to do it. it was a good wicket. The last bit was in Kanpur, in a very strange place. Trying to be 2-1 up in the series to save the day was another interesting experience.
how was it in Australia? It was fantastic. Ian Botham did fantastically well. We had some young bowlers. (Phil) de Freitas, (Gladstone) Small, Dilley was very good. We had Edmonds and Embury. The fact was that people like that, people like Gower in the side as well, I thought some of the criticism was a bit harsh in saying it was the worst side that left the shores, it felt a bit hard. by the end of it, people look at (Chris) Broad who got 3 hundreds opening the innings, and they had settled down. We won all three competitions because guys formed so well. They were enjoying it. It is like anything you enjoy, when you enjoy you do it better. the fact that we had 16 guys for 4 months- by the time we finished the ODI at Sydney, if we had to go for a decider, I don’t think we would have had a XI that was fit. That was a hugely long trip.
Obviously, I will never forget Gladstone Small catching Merv Hughes at the deep square leg boundary in Melbourne to win the Ashes. That, to me, was another huge experience. You are away, the opposite side of the world. You read what the Australian press are doing but you don’t really see a lot of your own papers. What you also see is the impact you have on your own country. When we got home, we were told how much it meant to a lot of people there. But seeing what it meant to all the expats as well in Australia was amazing too.
The 1985 series was just a steamroller series, when David was captaining, he was scoring lots of runs. It was a brutal series for us against the Aussies, and David lead the way in the summer.
SJ– There is a question from one of the listeners, Kartikeya. This is about the middle order batting. From your time, how have the expectations of a middle order batsman’s approach changed to the modern days, especially after KP (Kevin Pietersen) we now have middle order batsmen extremely aggressive? Was it true in your time back in the ‘80s? The English middle order was more conservative, is the assessment?
MG– Look, I think the game has changed. The way people play has changed. People try to be more positive. In Test cricket you can play in many ways. Different players play it differently. Geoffrey Boycott played it different than Graham Gooch, that is the great thing about a Test match – you need different people to do different things. You have wonderful cricketers like (Sachin) Tendulkar and (Brian) Lara and people like Warne and (Glenn) McGrath – just wonderful players, and they all do their thing differently. Things change. We have seen the advent of T20, people aren’t afraid these days to hit a seamer over his head. We never used to see that in Test cricket – people were a bit more conservative, probably. But then, you see what happened with the Australians – trying to be too positive and not getting away with it. actually, losing a series because of a lack of technique. It is interesting that you had Steve Waugh’s Australian side saying we need to score at 4 (runs) an over, we need more time to win the Test match. That is probably were it started – they wanted to be more positive, make more time, get more time to bowl the opposition out, etc. i just think there is still a balance in Test cricket, but I think the advent of T20 and the bigger bats and the way people envisage that word “positive” (has changed). You can be positive when you leave a ball when you leave a ball and you can be positive in your shot selection and you smash the ball over the bowler’s head. When you leave it, it also means you are being positive by being watchful. Probably had the Australians been slightly more watchful and slightly more positive in what they left, they might have still been in the Ashes series. You have to be slightly more careful about what the word “positive” means, certainly when it comes to Test cricket. With One Day cricket, we know what it means, especially with T20 cricket and the way they play One Day cricket now. I would like to think that it has been more entertaining than what it might have been before, but lots of people used to watch Test cricket because there wasn’t that many T20 or One Day around then.
SJ– I would like to go back to your 54th Test innings, when you scored your first Test hundred and then you went on a tear and scored 8 hundreds in 36 Test matches. What was it that changed as a Test batsman? Was it the 6th year of cricket or being a 27 year old reaching your peak?
MG– Yes, I think a bit of all that. You had your experiences, you had more belief because you had done that on a regular basis and you are comfortable in having your technique in the place and can cope with Test cricket. Any day, you have to be an all-round player, you have to be a very good player in Test cricket. It is not just spinners and seamers – it is everything – it is concentration, getting in the right frame of mind, making sure you practice and prepare properly. It is about getting all that right. It has a lot to do with belief.
SJ– Briefly touching on your Limited Overs career. Obviously people remember that reverse sweep where you got out, but you had a very good tournament. i think you were only Viv Richards in terms of strike rate, around 95. In that sense you were ahead of your time in how ODI batting was done. How did that come about in your batting?
MG– I suppose because I started batting at 5, and went up the order to 3 as we did in that competition, you had a bit more time and you needed to be positive. Spinners came on earlier in that competition. But the ability to try and run the ball around was a must. We had to get run a ball. You talk about how to play the game… For example, in the semi- final, Graeme Gooch was practicing all sorts of sweeps. I remember the left arm spinner, because India had two good left arm spinners who were choking the life out of all the other batsman and were bowling very well at 3 (runs) an over. We said that we needed to get to 250 and hit those guys for 5 an over. So, Goochie practiced in the nets for almost 2 days practicing sweeps – fine sweeps, slog sweeps; and the left armer asked “Why is Mr. Gooch sweeping every ball? Are we going to bowl him that badly?”
You watch him in the semi-final and that is exactly what he did! He got a hundred, I got 80-odd; and in my own ways I was playing my sweeps and Gooch was playing proper sweeps. It was the way we did it. you had to rotate the strike, you had to learn how to get a run a ball. I was never a big hitter like Viv, mine was just run a ball and rotate the strike. That is what you had to do.
SJ– Obviously, I will have to ask you this question. There are a few that sent in this question- are there regrets about going to South Africa in the rebel tour in 1990?
MG– Yeah, there are, because I didn’t play Test cricket for three years. I suppose the good thing was that when we spoke to [South Africa] President de Klerk, he said they were releasing [Nelson] Mandela, that they were trying to normalise South Africa. So we said, “Why do you need us out there?” They said it might help. In the end, I think the ANC [African National Congress] negotiated with the government and they got South African sport back into the world arena very quickly. So, yes, because I missed three years. I didn’t agree with the apartheid.
SJ– There is a question from David Oram – what was your thought process at that time, and is there still any bitterness about how you were let go of your captaincy?
MG– No, not really. At the end of the day, people have made some decisions and they said that they didn’t want me to be the captain. That is the choice of the people who were running the game.
SJ– One question from listener Rohan, and that is about your brother. The 1983 FA Cup final. Given a choice, would you take the opportunity of being in an FA Cup final, instead of winning an Ashes?
MG– Not at all, not at all! I don’t think there is anything better than playing in an international series and winning. I was at that Cup final and the replay. I was very lucky that i was allowed to walk on the pitch before the match started. I am sure Steve will tell you there is nothing like what he has played in. but, we played in front of 100,000 in Calcutta. In our own ways, we have both done what we had wanted to do. We both got a huge amount of pleasure out of it.
SJ– Finally, you served cricket as a player, captain, coach, ICC president. How do you look back on your accomplishments, both on and off the field?
MG– I have enjoyed them all enormously. By the time I had finished, I wanted to help put something back into the game too. There are one or two things that I would have liked to change, but if someone offered me my life before I started out, I would take it with both hands. It was fantastic, made a lot of friends, hopefully pleased a lot of people and at the same time hopefully now putting some of it back in to the game so others can enjoy as well.
SJ– Thank you so much, Gatt, it was an absolute pleasure talking to you!
MG– You are welcome!
Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman