Cricket World Cup history: The silken touch of David Gower
Batsmen as graceful as David Gower come but once in a generation. The innate elegance of a left-hander is often bandied about, but if you wished to look at natural grace in its pristine form you only had to watch this blonde curly-top at the crease.
If, on the other hand, you had the occasion to see in action some of his contemporary left-handers like Clive Lloyd, Allan Border and Kepler Wessels, you would throw all theories about the elegance of southpaws into the nearest dustbin.
Gower’s batting was about lazy elegance. A brilliant timer, he would merely caress the ball and it would speed to the boundary before anyone could react. There were no savage drives or ferocious pulls for this dapper Englishman. When in good nick, his smooth stroking would send the fans into bouts of ecstasy like few other batsmen could.
The laid-back attitude was, however, sometimes mistaken for a casual approach. People with so much natural ability often do not feel the need for the hours of toil that some others, not so abundantly blessed by the Almighty, are forced to put in.
Gower had little use for the nets and was known to deride the often-dubious quality of practice pitches. But a look at his record - seven one-day international hundreds, over 8,000 Test runs at a 44-plus average and among England’s highest run-getters - would dispel the notion that he was a shirker. Gower was, on the contrary, a top performer at the highest level.
Gower made his maiden appearance in the World Cup in 1979. His opportunities in this tournament were few, and some of his performances below par. He had a happy baptism in the tournament though, ushering in an easy victory over Australia at Lord’s with another young English hero, Ian Botham, for company at the wicket.
He also played a useful hand in a low-scoring match against Pakistan. But in the final, Gower was bowled by Joel Garner for a duck as ‘Big Bird’ scythed through the English line-up after a laborious opening stand between skipper Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott.
It might have been some consolation to Gower when Brearley noted about the 6 feet 8 inches Garner: “He bowls out of the trees with his arm above the sight-screen at the Nursery End. If he manages a yorker straight when you first go in, it’s impossible to pick up.”
It was in 1983 that Gower touched prime form. He began with a knock of 39 off the New Zealand attack. His 66-run second-wicket stand with Chris Tavare gave momentum to the innings after the early dismissal of Graeme Fowler.
Gower put the Sri Lankan bowling to the sword, playing a sparkling knock that enabled his side to pile up a huge score of 333 in 60 overs. In the process he crafted a highly skilled innings of 130 off just 120 balls with 5 sixes and 12 fours.
His 96-run third-wicket partnership with Allan Lamb rapidly took the game away from Sri Lanka. Gower then found an able ally in wicketkeeper Ian Gould. Together they put on 98 for the sixth wicket. Naturally, Gower was the man-of-the-match.
He also equaled the then record of 6 one-day hundreds held by Zaheer Abbas. As Zaheer himself played a brilliant lone hand for Pakistan in the next match, Gower’s reply was a fine 48 and a 78-run second-wicket stand with Fowler. This put England on the path to victory.
When the Kiwis arrived at Edgbaston for the return game, Gower was at his vintage best. He scored a delightful unbeaten 92 off 96 balls, embellished with 4 sixes and 6 fours, as wickets crashed all around him. It was a brilliant innings in vain as New Zealand snatched a narrow win.
His fine run continued as he scored 31 in a one-sided win over Pakistan. He then guided his team to a facile nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka with an undefeated 27, and England sailed into the semi-finals.
Up against the dark horses India in the semi-final, Gower fell to the guile of slow-medium seamer Mohinder Amarnath for 17 and England lost their way. But he had already left his stamp on the 1983 competition, being the highest scorer with 384 runs in 7 innings, and also topping the averages at 76.80.
This was David Gower at his best, ticking off the runs in that easy free-flowing manner of his. A strike-rate of 84.95 in this edition stood testimony to his abundant skills.
Having decided not to tour, he missed the 1987 tournament, and that was all that we saw of him in the World Cup.
With Gower it was not just the number of runs that he scored; it was the manner in which he crafted them. There never was a batsman more pleasing to the eye. He often reminded old-timers of Frank Woolley.
While Woolley was also a great straight hitter, Gower finished with a better Test record. Without a doubt, David Gower brought the magical touch of the Old World to the tawdry modern age of commercialism.
David Gower’s World Cup batting and fielding record:
Matches 12, Highest Score 130, Runs 434, Average 54.25, Strike-rate 82.35, Hundred 1, Fifty 1, Catches 2