20 years ago, David Gower shouldered arms to be bowled by a Waqar Younis delivery, marking the end of 14 years of ethereal run-making. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day which saw the most princely of batsmen walked back to the pavilion the last time.
Till the final afternoon, there had been that languid grace about David Gower’s batting, transforming him into a dreamy, dazzling delight. The crispness of esoteric timing – as packed with élan as devoid of effort; the lazy follow through as the ball magically pierced the field; and then the icing of the left-hander’s natural elegance.
It was not for nothing that Henry Blofeld, not the biggest admirer of the English stalwart, had thus described a Gower hundred – “If Shakespeare had seen the innings, he would have written a sonnet about it.” Sadly, often Gower also resembled one of the jesters etched by the bard’s pen – when he threw his wicket away when in the why and the wherefore was neither rhyme nor reason.
The first innings of the Oval Test had shown a glimpse or two of his genius till that very Gower-like demise that had the critics carping about irresponsibility and the connoisseurs bemoaning what might have been. A bottom edge off a sublime square cut gone wrong, dragging a wide delivery from Aaqib Javed onto his stumps. The hour and a bit had seen him progress to 27 and depart when many more were needed.
He walked in at 55 for three in the second innings, with Waqar Younis on rampage. The diminishing blonde curls were just about visible beneath the blue helmet, the hopes of England for the umpteenth time hung on his flashing blade as a first innings deficit of 173 hovered threateningly. The young tearaway, having dismissed Alec Stewart, Michael Atherton and Graham Gooch, sprinted in to bowl at the knight of glorious stroke-play.
Fourteen years down the line, his last moment lacked the same euphoria. His rapier of a blade, which had waged many a battle without bartering finesse for the prosaic, scratched about for a while, notching up a solitary run. On the seventh ball, it remained raised, for the thunderbolt from young Younis to pass through, and back it came from outside the off, knocking his stump askew.
The glistening sword, forever encased in silk, was now wrapped up for good. The 8231 runs and 18 centuries became figures cast in the annals of history, not to be added to or appended any more. England crashed to a 10-wicket defeat, losing the series as well, and the left handed maestro was not picked for the Indian tour of the winter.
In the third Test of the series, at Old Trafford, Gower had caressed – and sometimes edged – 73 runs off 85 balls, before characteristically slashing Wasim Akram to get a snick. During the course of the innings he had overtaken Geoff Boycott – a perfectionist at the other end of the spectrum of exhilarating batsmanship– to become the highest run-getter for England in Test cricket. He had followed it up with a patient 31 not out to shepherd the home team to a win at Headingley in the next Test. In retrospect, his omission from the winter in India seems somewhat strange and sudden, made further murky by the disastrous 0-3 loss that followed on dusty, turning tracks.
However, captain Gooch was on 7573 runs at the end of the final Test, and soon became the leader of the table of English run-getters himself. Facts and figures that have become fodder for endless speculation.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)