By Saj Sadiq
Born June 6, 1957, and described variously as “pugnacious, bold, brave and belligerent”, Michael “Mike” Gatting OBE started his Test career with a match in Karachi against Pakistan in 1978. Gatting would go on to play 79 Tests before his retirement in 1995, having scored 4,409 runs at an average of 35.55.
With 10 centuries and 21 fifties in Test matches to his name, Gatting also had the honour of captaining England 23 times with the highlight of his captaincy being the Ashes victory in the 1986-87 series. His ODI career, curiously, also started with a match against Pakistan in 1977. He then went on to play 92 matches, scoring 2,095 runs with an average of 29.95.
Along the way, Gatting also courted controversy and gained notoriety twice — once because of the Shakoor Rana incident in 1987 and then due to his role in the rebel tours of South Africa in 1990. He was also the recipient of what has been termed the ball of the century by Shane Warne and is also remembered for the failed reverse-sweep shot off opposing captain Allan Border’s first ball during the 1987 World Cup final.
Gatting was named as one of Wisden’s five ‘Cricketers of the Year’ in 1984, and in 1987 he was awarded an OBE. He retired from all forms of cricket in 1998 and has since worked as a coach and commentator. He was the president of the Lord’s Taverners for 2005-2006 and was recently named as President of the MCC in May 2013.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net the former England captain spoke on a variety of topics including notable moments in his career, the ‘Ball of the Century’, the confrontation with umpire Shakoor Rana, the infamous bouncer from Malcolm Marshall as well as discussing the challenges facing cricket today.
PakPassion.net (PP): How would you rate yourself as a cricketer in terms of your achievements and where do you feel your career fell short?
Mike Gatting (MG): I suppose I didn’t get into Test cricket as quickly as I would have liked to have done, which was disappointing. Also, I didn’t get a hundred for a long time in my Test career and I didn’t manage a series win against the West Indies. Apart from that, I think it was ok.
PP: What do you feel was the high point of your international career?
MG: The high point of my career came two or three years after I had started playing Test cricket when I made my first hundred, which was a special moment. After reaching the milestone of my first Test hundred, I managed to get through two or three years of playing some really good cricket at Test level.
PP: You’re famous in a strange sort of way for that Shane Warne delivery which has been labeled as the ‘ball of the century’. Do you think it was the ‘ball of century’ or did you just misread it?
MG: I didn’t misread it. I just didn’t realise it would spin that much. As a player, you know it’s going to spin a bit but that one just turned an enormous amount and managed to beat everything. There wasn’t a great deal I could do about it. You do get balls like that even from seamers where you think you’ve got it covered and it seams off the pitch and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just hope it doesn’t take the outside edge or hit the stumps.
PP: Had you seen much of Shane Warne before that delivery? Did you have much of an opportunity along with your teammates to analyse his bowling before you faced him?
MG: No, not really, in fact not much at all. We had seen a bit of footage of him bowling in the West Indies and India. Other than that, it was my first time seeing him. It was our first sighting of Shane Warne.
PP: I suppose in the modern era, you would have complete video analysis for any new bowler, which is something you didn’t have at that time for Shane Warne?
MG: Yes, the trouble is though you can watch someone bowl all the time and it doesn’t matter. For example, you know Brett Lee bowls outswingers and you know Glenn McGrath seams the ball. But when Glenn McGrath seams the ball, you don’t know which way it’s going to go anyway and you can still miss it or knick it.
The same applies to Shane Warne, you can try looking at his run-up, watch the ball or watch his hands to see which way the ball is spinning and you can have a look at as many videos as you like but, when the ball hits the pitch and does something extraordinary, then there isn’t a lot that you can do about it.
PP: Was Shane Warne the best bowler you faced or were there better bowlers than him?
MG: Well, Shane was the most successful, but Abdul Qadir was a fine bowler too. Abdul was a very very good bowler. He probably bowled a greater variety of deliveries than Shane did. Shane bowled a very good flipper and he bowled a googly which was difficult to pick. He also had a leggie and a top spinner in his armoury. Abdul Qadir however would bowl all sorts of different deliveries and they were sometimes hard to pick. He was another fine bowler. Obviously Shane was so successful and so consistent with the accuracy that you rarely got a bad ball to hit from him.
PP: The infamous Malcolm Marshall bouncer — what are your memories of that delivery and what happened that day?
MG: Well, basically, it wasn’t a very good pitch as it was very uneven. Not too long after that, we actually had a Test match called off there, and rightly so. So this was a one-day match and the pitch was a bit up and down. I suppose, undulating was probably the right term for it. The ball basically reared off a length. It was a shortish ball which I was pulling but it got big very quickly because it hit one of the up slopes and those undulations. It came up rather quickly and also seamed back as well. Since it seamed back, I couldn’t get anything on it quick enough. I tried to get a glove on it, but it missed everything.
PP: Was the Marshall bouncer the most potent fast bowling weapon that you faced during your career?
MG: ‘Maco’ bowled a really good bouncer. It wasn’t really a bouncer to be fair. It was a shortish ball that got really big. If he did bowl a bouncer, it was never over your head. He got pretty upset if it was over head height because it was a waste in his eyes. ‘Maco’ was one of the great bowlers ever. In my view, both Shane Warne and Malcolm Marshall in their respective categories were without a doubt the best bowlers I faced.
PP: One infamous incident that you are well-known for is the Shakoor Rana controversy in Pakistan. What are your thoughts and recollections of that incident and looking back would you have done anything differently that day?
MG: I don’t know about doing anything differently. It’s not really good to argue with an umpire and you shouldn’t. I’ve never really had a problem with any other umpire in the world. It just happened to be him. I didn’t feel it was right for him to get that involved in the game. We had a discussion about it which wasn’t very good. It wasn’t questioning whether somebody was out or not. It was a question of why he was getting involved when perhaps there was no need to.
PP: You were a fine player of spin bowling. Some of the modern-day batsmen tend to struggle against the best spinners in the world. What’s your basic advice to batsmen with regards to how to play spin bowling well particularly in Test cricket?
MG: Everybody plays spin differently. As for me, I just tried to play it with the bat. I tried to play it with the spin and tried to use my feet and make the bowler bowl where I wanted to, or go down the wicket and sweep. It’s really like a game of chess. You can only play like that against spin bowling because you don’t have enough time to do that against seam bowling. With a spinner, you’ve got time to do things. You can prepare to go up and down the wicket and do different things. You can play a spinner on length or go back in the crease or go right forward. It shouldn’t be that difficult because the ball is coming down slower and really you should be in control of it. Obviously, if somebody turns it as much as Shane Warne did or bowls it as accurately, it’s more difficult and you have to play differently. Generally, you try to play the ball with the bat, keep your legs out of the way and try and hit the ball straight back down the ground or with the spin as much as you can.
PP: Sounds like you have a fairly straightforward and basic technique against spin. Most batsmen tend to over-complicate things, don’t they?
MG: Yes, I am not sure why either. For me, the ball is coming down reasonably slower and a lot of them use the pad as a first line of defense which is probably the wrong thing to do. Therefore, especially in this day and age of DRS, you should not use it [pad] at all. You should just use your bat and trust your judgment.
PP: As somebody who was a Test captain and led his country very well, what are the most important assets and strengths that a good captain should have?
MG: I think good communication is a key ingredient. Apart from that, talking to your players, understanding them, trying to get them involved and making them feel a part of the dressing room is also important.
In my view, you have to make players have conversations and encourage them to have their say so they feel a part of a team — is all up to the captain. It’s also up to the captain to make them feel as if they deserve to be there. In addition, working with different people and in different ways at the same time allowing communication and talking to people is key as well as trying to get the right balance in the team.
PP: What are your thoughts on Misbah-ul-Haq as a cricketer and his captaincy?
MG: I think he’s a very fine cricketer. It looks like he’s got the team on board and on his side. As a captain, it’s about getting players on board, working with you, and agreeing with the way you want to play and what you need to do and as a part of the team. Hopefully, you earn respect through time and people follow you which is perhaps a strange way to go at times. Again the simpler you can keep it, the better.
PP: We’ve seen the likes of Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Mervyn Westfield, Danish Kaneria, and some of the players in the IPL recently get involved in spot-fixing. Do you think fixing is common in the modern game or is it just a few bad apples giving cricket a bad name?
MG: Look, it’s a thing that we don’t want in the game. It’s one of those very sad things that have crept in the game and who knows how long it’s been going on for. It seems that people feel that it doesn’t really affect games. Perhaps it doesn’t, but it’s not something you want in the game, be it throwing games or fixing games. It’s not good and destroys the fabric of the term a “gentleman’s game.” It really is something that I hope that we can rid the game of.
Sadly, I think that if we’re going to be realistic about it, we won’t be able to stop it unless there is some sort of fine that stops the question from being asked. It’s an accomplished fact that players should know what they have to do if they are approached. You hope that somewhere along the line we find a solution that players won’t accept the money and won’t want to do it.
PP: Do you think that Twenty20 leagues around the world encourage these sort of misdemeanours?
MG: It doesn’t matter what cricket you’re playing. We’ve seen it in Test cricket and we’ve seen it in T20s. So it’s not just T20s, it happens all around the world sadly in all sorts of games. It is one of those things that whenever there’s a game on, even a County Championship match, somebody can do something in that game. It doesn’t matter where it is. Everybody has to be vigilant throughout whatever cricket they’re playing.
PP: We’ve seen the ICC make a recent rule change with regards to DRS — topping up the two reviews for captains in Test Cricket after 80 overs. What do you think of that rule change?
MG: I’d like to just get it right first time. Obviously they’ve had a chat about it and think it’s the right way going forward. The reason we only had two in the first place is that we didn’t want everyone appealing willy-nilly. We wanted to make it to just get rid of those howlers. I’m not sure why they’ve added another two.
If they wanted to add them, just make it four, it doesn’t have to be after 80 overs. It’s one that we’ll have to wait and see to where it gets to. I’m not convinced that it will solve the issue. We’ve got to get this and the technology right. To me, the first thing is to get the technology to the best it can be and to the simplest it can be to actually get it right. That’s what we want. We want to make the decision-making right, which is why we did it in the first place.
PP: Do you think DRS has actually added to the pressure on the umpires?
MG: I don’t think so. I think it’s helped the umpires. They get more decisions right. It does, I suspect, for some of the line decisions like run-outs and stumpings, make life easier for the umpires. They get the decision right about 99 per cent of the time, which I think is great. It takes a bit of angst out of the game. I think the pictures are good enough these days to be able to give us a clear indication of what’s going on and they should be got right. Sadly, some of the times in non-line decisions it doesn’t seem to happen. I just think that we need to get the process and the technology right. If we can do that, the pressure should be off the umpires.
PP: What do you feel are cricket’s biggest challenges going forward — both in the short-term and long-term?
MG: I think that corruption in the game is a big one that we mustn’t ignore. It’s huge and something that we don’t like in the game and don’t want to see in the game at all. I think that the other thing is that we’ve got to ensure that cricket is stable and that we keep Test cricket, 50-over cricket, and T20 cricket as all three formats have a place in international cricket. I think that’s the direction we need to go in.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)