David Gower: Ireland deserve a warm Lord's embrace

Historic meeting says something about the subtle change in relationship

Okay, so it's hard to get away from the image of a languid David Gower on the other end of the line to London, mid-tilt on his stuffed recliner, swirling a hand-warmed glass of Malbec or Rioja.

The former England player, with his “splendid” and “marvellous” and “ever so” quaintly punctuating the conversation and placing him firmly in middle England from where he will never emerge, is educated, polite, measured, fair, and unhurried; a grammar-school boy, an English cricket captain and an OBE.

Raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in East Africa, for the first six years of his life as the son of a senior British domain administrator, dad an OBE too, his early semi-feral years were ones of clichéd colonial privilege, with all the trappings of staff, cooks, gardeners and a house near a golf course.

Resolutely an establishment figure, in August 2014, Gower was one of 200 public figures who were signatories of a letter to the Guardian newspaper opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on the issue.


The pads went on when boarding in King’s School, Canterbury, and at 18 years old it was Leicestershire and cricket, cricket, cricket.

Gower now talks the sport for a living and at 60 years old knows every crack on every wicket and also every portrait and creaking board at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

One of his five Test series man-of-the-match awards was at Lord’s against New Zealand in 1983, when he scored 108 and 34 runs. He also claimed a One Day International man-of-the-match award when England faced Australia at the home of cricket in June 1985, where he had a knock 102.

The machinations of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are no stranger to him. He agrees the Lord’s venue adds imprimatur, gives a richer flavour to today’s historic meeting between Ireland and England and says something about the subtle change in relationship between the two countries.

From England’s perspective the inclusion of Lord’s for the first ever clash in a series on English soil is a gallant and deliberate gesture by the ECB.

It is a doff of the cap to Irish cricket’s growing maturity and not all down to Kevin O’Brien blazing the fastest century in Cricket World Cup history when Ireland pulled off an astonishing victory over England in Bangalore in 2011.

The Railway Union batsman smashed 113 off 63 balls as Ireland recovered from 111-5 to overhaul their target of 328 with five balls to spare and three wickets in hand.

There is more to Irish cricket than O'Brien burning down the house or Ireland beating Pakistan in Sabina Park in the 2007 World Cup. But it helps.

“Yeah I think it is a warm embrace,” says Gower of the Lord’s match. “I would say that’s recognition that Ireland has made huge strides in the last decade or so. They are working mighty hard to continue to improve. It will be a special day.”

Paul Stirling and Tim Murtagh, who play for Middlesex, know the ground intimately and other Irish players with English county sides will have competed there. But playing in Lord's with Ireland will be of a different magnitude.

In cricket more than most sports, history is drawn in and included with some shadows cast in Lord’s dating back to 1814 when the new ground was opened. Walking out for the first time has resonance.

“I can remember it all very clearly,” says Gower of his first match. “Any historic ground with an atmosphere is great to play, but Lord’s has that little bit extra with the reputation, the history.

“It’s a fantastic thing both as a home player and away player to be walking into the dressing rooms and think of the people who have been there before.

“I think it’s a very, very special thing walking out at Lord’s, walking through the Long Room, past all those pictures of previous great players looking down on you and everyone hoping that the inspiration works.

“I was 21 years old,” he adds. “You walk across the ground at the nursery end, do all these things. It all adds up to something. One thing I have always said about people aspiring to be international cricketers is that when you walk through the Long Room and onto the field it feels good.

“That’s what you need to know. If for any reason you think there are doubts surfacing, it is never a good sign. You have to be the sort of person who loves the feeling and basically feeds off pressure rather than feels pressure.”

There is also an inescapable subtext to the match. Seeking to move from associate membership to full member status, Ireland could make their Test debut next year once the International Cricket Council (ICC) are satisfied.

Under the terms of the new ICC constitution, which will be formally ratified next month, associate members can be promoted to full member status if they meet the ICC’s qualifying criteria regarding playing standards and good governance.

That’s a tectonic shift in thinking from the established order and will move Ireland into a different gear internationally, and bring in more revenue.

Gower sees it as a positive move but does so with a note of caution. He will welcome the Ireland gene into the Test brotherhood but hesitates to pronounce the elevation as kink free or without some self doubt and considerable challenge.

“It would be a huge step,” he says. “There’s actually no doubt, an absolutely huge step. We have seen over the last 20 or so years how very, very tough it is to become a full Test-playing nation. If you think about the most recent additions into the club, the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and you see how long it takes to get established, to build an infrastructure, to learn what goes on and to actually compete. It’s quite a daunting step.

“We have seen in the last decade a lot of very good stuff coming from the Ireland cricket team, most of it inevitably in white ball cricket (one day).

“I think the warning is this. Test match cricket tends to expose differences rather more vividly. But it is a target, it is an incentive. It would be an extraordinary achievement.

“If it were to happen, it might well hasten what many people think is quite a good idea, which is a sort of two-tier system, a first and second division of Test cricket. It could be a way of expanding ‘The club’ in a constructive fashion.”

He tells a sort of parable. England left-hander and wicketkeeper Ben Duckett came up through the county system and made runs in every form of the game. Lionised Duckett was then badly exposed in unique circumstances in Bangladesh and India against bowlers and the sort of cricket he had never seen before.

He talks about 20-year-old Haseeb Hameed who made an impressive debut in India. He may open the batting against Australia next winter against what seems to be a revitalised Australian side based on pace. Gower suggests he too may “have an interesting time” for his first Ashes Tour. Gower is actually talking about Ireland.

“These are talented young men coming through an established system,” he says. “Anyone coming up through any system, the next step is always the hardest.

"Even if you establish yourself as an Irish one-day player, you are taking on new challenges and you don't necessarily have the facilities or the system to really practise. You are, in a sense, being asked to climb Everest when all you've done is Ben Nevis. "

His cricket anxiety does not stop there. His view is that although the mood from ICC is that broadening the game is important, he feels the discussion that currently goes with this is more about the future of Test cricket itself, let alone how many people play it.

“One of the biggest worries at the moment is the players, including India’s Virat Kohili (captain), who are outspoken on this,” he says.

“Everyone is well aware that the game is a viable product. England is good. Australia most of the time is good. India is very much more dominated by T20 (Indian Premier League).

“Filling stadiums to watch Test cricket is mostly a problem. So expanding ‘The club’, whatever way you do it, is more of an altruistic gesture than a commercial one.”

Gower can sound serious. But he is not always. During the 1990–91 Ashes Tour in Australia, England were playing a match in Queensland when Gower and batsman John Morris buzzed the ground in Tiger Moth biplanes.

Dismissed earlier that day, they had quit the ground. Gower was fined £1,000, a penalty that could have been steeper had he released the water bombs. During the fourth Test at Adelaide, he walked out to the crease to the tune of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.

He talks of England captain Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin, Ireland's wild geese, who left to play Test cricket for England with varying success, a worn path that with a change in status Ireland could meet head on.

“If Ireland has a status, then there would be a big incentive to stay with Ireland and make Ireland great,” says Gower brightly.

That would be the idea.

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