Former England captain, Sky Cricket anchor and the most committed stylist of modern batsmen David Gower discusses the pros and cons of beauty in batting and picks out a few favourite easy-on-the-eye Ashes performers.
‘Part of my soul dictated this was the only way I could play’
I played a certain way, and I still enjoy watching the players who make it look easy (even though we all know it’s not). But for players like that there is a dilemma. Do you carry on playing shots to make runs your way, come what may – to take a bit of a risk and back yourself to be able to do that. Or do you have to adapt yourself to try and make more runs overall?
The great example from before my time was Kenny Barrington, who was a pretty free strokemaker when he first started playing for England but was averaging 40-odd and they dropped him. He came back and became the ultimate percentage man, he got his average up into the mid-50s but wasn’t the same free-flowing batsman to watch. Now, pragmatically that makes sense. I never quite made that change, and whether I regret that or not I don’t know. But I don’t think I could have played as a Kenny or a Boycott. Part of my soul dictated this was pretty much the only way I could play.
Australia 1991-2002, 128 Tests, 8,029 runs at 41.81
The Waugh brothers sum up the dilemma people have in judging players. Mark was much easier on the eye than brother Steve, and yet Steve achieved much more with his career than did Mark. Mark was about elegance at the crease, those flicks onto the on-side… and in the field as well – he made slip catching look ridiculously easy, which is evidence of the talent there. The first hundred Mark made against us was I think at Adelaide in 1991 – a Mark Waugh hundred just seemed to happen by itself. It’s lovely to watch people like that when they’re in full flow. Almost to the degree that when you’re playing against them you’re thinking, ‘Well, yes, we’re meant to be trying to get him out, but actually, in the meantime, I don’t mind watching.’
England 2004-, 112 Tests, 7,427 runs at 43.18
He’s always looked good. At first he was perhaps slightly out of his depth but since he came back into the side having been dropped he has proved his ability to get tough runs as well. He showed that particularly well in the 2013 Ashes in England. And all the while he’s kept his style – that ability to look good – come what may.
Australia 1992-2006, 67 Tests, 4,406 runs at 46.37
Not one of the Ashes greats, but he had some great moments. I remember watching him a couple of years ago playing in a charity game at Cirencester Park. It was just a day out, nothing serious. He came in and played in such a way that it could have been the WACA or Lord’s. He times the ball just beautifully and there wasn’t a bead of sweat anywhere to be seen. He hadn’t been playing much cricket, it was just so natural and so easy. He had his moments as a player but not as many as he would have liked, and he paid the price at times for being slightly easy in terms of attitude.
That’s the cross you have to bear, because if someone plays with a ‘none shall pass’ attitude, it’s there for everyone to see and if they get out you think, ‘Ok, well at least he was giving it a real go.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean that other players were any less intense about the game, it’s just that it looks good.
Australia 1970-1984, 87 Tests, 7,110 runs at 53.86
Greg was a beautiful batsman to watch. He had style, especially compared with his brother Ian, who was an ugly batsman. I have a lot of respect for Ian as an individual and a captain – he was the better captain of the two – but Greg had that ability to make it look easy.
But I know from talking to Greg that he is a real theorist, too. He’s one of these people who loves thinking about little things that make a difference. I remember him saying to me that when he started an innings he would consciously try to play with the inside half of the bat. And I thought, ‘I can’t do that – it’s hard enough trying to hit the middle.’ But it was an effort to keep himself tight early on and eliminate the chance of an edge. That was just his theory as to how to get in and get set. Then he would open up. But that was the first time I’d heard anything of that sort of nature in terms of the theory of batting.
You don’t necessarily expect analysis from stylish players, but they have to do it.
David Gower’s 50 Greatest Cricketers of All Time is available now.