David Gower was always known to be one of the most stylish players to have graced the game. Now retired from commentary duties as well, he was happy to give his thoughts in this online video interaction. Excerpts of the interview:
What's your first reaction on cricket being back?
It's been a long wait. We are very relieved that they have managed to get this game started and resolved all sorts of problems to get this series going. So far, there have been no problems. They have started safely. There was a tiny scare with Sam Curran having a viral infection but that was completely unrelated to COVID-19, so that was good news. Everyone is adjusting to the fact that there's no crowd. Even watching it on television it seems different. Overall we are very relieved that the cricket is going on. It's already an intriguing Test match. West Indies are surprising people happily. But it's a five-day game and there is still a long way to go.
How strange does it look now that there are no crowds allowed? Even on television, does it look strange?
On television, it's actually not too bad. Apart from that technical glitch Sky had on the first morning, which can happen to anyone, anytime. On television, you have got visual angles and you are focused on the action predominantly, the only thing you miss is a bit of crowd noise when someone hits a four or gets to a fifty... That sort of thing. From what I have seen over the last couple of days, including the rain, it's been a good experience so far. I would be intrigued to be out on the ground because it's a strange feeling. The ground is beautiful but they are missing the crowd. I as an ex-player loved the buzz of the crowd. The inspiration you get from them. The players now need to get their inspiration from somewhere else. Something professional pride or will to win. There are definitely players who respond well to having a crowd and some of those players... Ben Stokes who responds so well to the crowd, he will have to find his motivation from other places.
Watching cricket on TV is fine because the action remains pretty much the same. Yes, we will miss the crowd and them appreciating what they are watching. But the fact is we have got this game going, everyone needed this game, everyone needed to get this series going. Everyone needs the series to be completed in the right spirit. Everyone needs the next series to be completed as well. We have to start asking the same question in other countries, what happens over the next six or 12 months.
Michael Holding gave a tremendous speech on the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. What's your take on this?
Mikey was very good. He was very eloquent. He knows his stuff. Just listening to him for 20 minutes and I have known him for 40 years, he is a very passionate character. There are topics he is very passionate about and is worth listening to. All the issues he raised were valid. This BLM movement is entirely valid. There's nothing really to compare it to. Everyone in this game needs to understand these issues. There has been a lot of ignorance, a lot of misunderstanding and there are definitely some questions that need to be answered.
From my personal point of view, I first played with West Indies in 1976 as I was part of a young English Under-19 team. I never had a problem dealing with them. I have made a lot of friends over the years. Mikey is one of them. There were great men like Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and so many more. It's not about people who understand other people, it's all about the possible misunderstandings.
Those who didn't have the privilege like we did or do as cricketers. One of the great things as an international cricketer is that you are exposed to different cultures and countries. I have travelled the world playing cricket and doing commentary and I understand people from all those different places. I have learnt a lot from them and to be able to talk to different people is very special. These things are important. These issues raised need to be understood by lot more people. That's the thing! Listening to Mikey and Ebony Rainford-Brent, it was fascinating. We need to acknowledge that there are people who have issues with races. It's complete ignorance. In most cases, the foundation of that is largely the ignorance, sometimes fear, and all sorts of reasons. We need to deal with it and it's a task for those who are involved in the game. The message from Mikey was very strong. That was a very strong start to the coverage of the Test match.
England has a history. Most of the cricket playing nations have been ruled by England. In that context, how big was this speech, that originated from English cricket setup?
I don’t think it matters where the message comes from. Yes, it is a good point to make that England needs to learn lessons. England as a country, ECB as a governing body, there are lessons to be taken on board. Yes, it is important that the message is originated in England but the whole point about this movement is that the basic principle applies wherever you are in the world.
There has been a little controversy in England about those who say All Lives Matter, which to be fair is also true. The point that Mikey was making in his compassionate speech was that yes, all lives do matter but in the context of the society in the UK, around the world, it is easier for people to understand about white lives, harder sometimes for black lives. When people come together, you start to erode the basis of racism. It’s gonna take a long time. All these things take a long time, whether you talk about race, religion, psychology or philosophy. But awareness and education are important.
You have travelled across the world and commentated. Have you ever felt there was a sense of racism during your career, in your team or the dressing room?
As a player, and it has been 30-40 years when I started my career which is the late 70s, early 80s, we were friends with the West Indies, the most powerful cricket team in the world. They were respected both, as players and individuals.
I have never been witness to any overt racism. And I have been to the West Indies, I have been to all those Caribbean countries which played cricket. I have been to all around India, I have been to Pakistan, I have been to Sri Lanka, I have been to Australia.
I have experienced all these countries over the years. I have loved every moment of it. I can honestly say I have never experienced racism in the dressing room I was playing in or in the opposition dressing room. When we were playing the West Indies, we used to go in their rooms for a drink at the end of each day. When we played Australia, we used to go to their rooms for a drink at the end of each day. We would mingle with them, we would learn what made them tick.
Every time I see Mikey, it is with a smile on our respective faces because we know each other well, we understand each other, we respect each other. He is a man with strong opinions and it’s fun listening to them, not just about this particular topic but about all sorts of things.
For instance, we came to India in 1984-85 and I was captain. We had a guy named Norman Cowans. He was London-West Indian and a very good quick bowler. He was fun to be around. I don’t remember any issues with him in the dressing room. I went to West Indies with Roland Butcher, who at that stage was the first West Indies-born to play for England. There was no racism anywhere to be seen in our dressing room. He was one of us.
There have been absolutely no instances I have been aware of. I think it has been very useful to be an international cricketer playing against all these different people and is part of the education I was talking about.
While the T20 World Cup looks unlikely, IPL can be held outside India. How important is it that the two tournaments take place?
The easy answer is that we would love all these things - business, shops, theatres, restaurants, all parts of life which sustain economies across the world - to be able to open up but ‘safely’. Whereas we have Test cricket in the UK at the moment because we have two grounds that can be secure as possible with hotels on the ground. Once you try and start getting players from different countries to meet even in a radically safe country, you have more problems in the mix.
I don’t envy anyone who is involved in the decision-making process who has to say yes we are gonna play IPL or yes we are gonna play World T20. But each day, each week, something changes in this international crisis. If there is anyone who claims that they can tell us what is going to happen next, they are either delusional or lying. No-one knows what is gonna happen next. Every plan you make is contingent on things being okay. I don’t envy anyone who has to make those decisions. I don’t envy having to make plans. Plans themselves, you can try and cover as many things as possible but it all boils down in the end if it is safe to do this.
If you are trying to get players to come to IPL, is it safe to do this? You are trying to get international teams to come to World T20, is it safe to do this? That is the kind of question and if anyone needs to say ‘no’ then it doesn’t happen.
Everyone talks about Rohit Sharma has a lot of time, grace etc like you had in your playing days. So according to you, is it something you're blessed with or do you have to work so hard that people from the outside think it's very easy for you. How would you explain this?
In a way, no-one can play in an alien way. My style was just what I was born with. I had heroes in the game who played very differently, people like Garry Sobers who I looked at who was the world's best player at the time when I was growing up and people like Graeme Pollock in South Africa who was an outstanding cricketer, another left-handed batsman, but completely different style to mine. Sobers, likewise. You have to play the way you play and where the work comes in is to make sure you play well.
(Mahela) Jayawardene and anyone with a certain grace at the crease – no-one gets to see that grace if you get out. It is one of the great truisms of cricket that you can only make runs if you're at the crease. So, Rohit has to stay at the crease. I had to stay at the crease. Mahela had to stay at the crease. The great players of all time, whatever their style and grace, had to stay at the crease in order for people to appreciate them.
At the moment, we see his (Rohit's) talent on show all the time because he makes stacks and stacks of runs so the work comes in to actually make sure that you have the determination, the ability, the technique, the calmness and the concentration – all the things you need to actually occupy the crease for long enough to make those runs.
Is it that you're blessed with a natural gift and then you work on that or is it purely a gift? Do you feel some people can't achieve that grace even if they work hard?
I wouldn't recommend anyone try and play differently to the way they naturally play. All you're trying to do is make yourself better, more efficient and more effective. It's just a God-given thing if it so happens that you have the ability to make hundreds and be pleasing on the eye at the same time.
The downside is this, as Rohit has probably found out as well, that if you make it look easy when you get out, the natural assumption for people watching sometimes is that you don't care, that you're too relaxed or it doesn't matter. It looks as easy getting out as it does hitting the ball for four. All you can do under those circumstances is say 'look two days ago I got a hundred, that's what I'm trying to do every day, just because it didn't work is not because I'm not trying'.
Every one of us realises that the ultimate success is having as many good days as possible. The ultimate fun is having as many good days as possible. So every incentive is there to make it work.
Does it startle you that Rohit is such a phenomenal white-ball player but hasn't got such results in Test cricket?
I'm not startled, far from it. There are loads of players with immense talent and it's a very fine line sometimes. I can name you a dozen players pretty quickly probably who are very good at white-ball cricket, hopeless at red-ball cricket. It doesn't mean they're not talented, it doesn't mean they're not gifted in a certain way.
For instance, we have one in England – Jason Roy, who is a very, very talented player. A vital part of England's World Cup win last year, opens the innings in white-ball cricket and gets hundreds. I had a hope that he might be able to learn how to control himself better at Test match level and make runs. All that hope looks a bit distant now because of what happened in the Ashes.
That's why I think I, and most players current and past, would say that the ultimate test is Test match cricket because it exposes people to different problems. You can get away with a lot in white-ball cricket. You can be multi-talented, you can be a great player to watch, you can hit the ball miles in white-ball cricket, but I'm afraid sometimes people are exposed when it comes to stepping up and I always call it stepping up to Test match cricket.
Those who make runs in all formats, those are the ones you have to admire most. It doesn't mean you can't admire the quality of people for instance who become the most valuable players in IPL or who win you World Cups in 50-overs or win you World Cups in T20. They've all got merits, they've all got skills, they've all got things that entertain the public which is all part of the business as well. This is a business which is an entertainment and it needs people to watch, be it on television or at the ground. So, there is space for everyone. But people that I respect most of all are people who can do it in any format but especially in Test match cricket.
It's Sunil Gavaskar's 71st birthday, what is the one thought that comes to your mind when you think of him as a cricketer?
Sunil, one of those people, I like to count as a friend. Sunil was extraordinary because he was playing in an era mostly pre-helmets. He made a lot of runs against West Indies in the West Indies. Even though it was just before the great era of West Indies – the 1970s, there were some great players in the Caribbean and in the 80s, they were even stronger. But Sunil made runs against everyone and everywhere.
He was an extraordinary man to be up against, both as a player and as a captain. He's a very, very shrewd little cookie and I do enjoy his company. He's a very interesting man to be around. There are many, many qualities about Sunil and not least of all that he was one of the world's great players – that's what we all remember him for.