Graeme Fowler is all smiles after completing his double century in the 4th Test against India at Madras in January 1985 © Getty Images
Graeme “Foxy” Fowler, born April 20, 1957, was an English cricketer who thrived when most frontline players left for the rebel tour against South Africa. He did script a few noteworthy innings, the most famous was his 201 against India at Chennai. That Test, unfortunately, was his penultimate international game. Karthik Parimal looks back at the international career which never took off despite having a solid platform and ended at age 27.
The early ’80s presented a period of uncertainty for most international teams in the cricketing arena; more so for Australia, West Indies and England. Most first-rate players from here preferred making a mark on the rebel tour of South Africa, thereby putting their national duties on the backburner. Understandably, it didn’t go down well with the administrators and, the powers to be in England, who dished out three-year bans on those who chose got to the then banned South Africa. The void that was created in most sides during this tentative phase provided opportunities for many fringe players. Some made hay, while a few faded away into oblivion.
It was at this juncture, in 1982, that Graeme Fowler was drafted into a depleted English unit. In his first assignment against Pakistan, he scored a gritty 86 against a bowling attack that featured the likes of Imran Khan, Sikander Bhakt and Abdul Qadir, and in the process helped his side gain an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series. That knock led many to believe that a solution to England’s top-order conundrums had finally been unearthed. Tougher contests, one against Australia for the Ashes and the other versus New Zealand at home lay ahead and his prowess would surely be put to test.
A Test century and a breezy World Cup
Down Under, Fowler didn’t steal the limelight, but managed to register two noteworthy scores of 83 at Brisbane and 65 at Melbourne — a Test in which England scraped through by three runs. Nevertheless, there were seldom any significant contributions in between. A Test century — a yardstick through which an opening batsman is usually measured — was yet to be produced. This was conceived at The Oval in the July of 1983 — in his fifth Test, almost a year after his debut, against a formidable Kiwi bowling line-up powered by Sir Richard Hadlee. That innings made him a certainty in the setup.
A month prior to attaining this coveted milestone, Fowler was one of England’s most successful batsmen during the 1983 Prudential World Cup. He was next only to David Gower in terms of runs accumulated, with 360 of them under his belt at an average of 72, inclusive of four consecutive half-centuries that were instrumental in England qualifying for the semi-finals (Gower scored 384 runs at 76.80, with one century and one fifty to his name). The highest of 81 came against a frail Sri Lanka at Leeds, which eventually turned out to be the most he could get in an innings in One-Day Internationals.
A knock that subsequently led to his drop
It was an innings that the best of the batsmen would crave for. In most cases, it would have been termed as career-defining, but for Fowler it was, unfortunately, his last memorable knock on the big stage.
In the sweltering heat of Chennai, he did what none of the touring English batsmen, his predecessors, could ever manage to do — score a double-century in India. Amidst allegations that he wasn’t England’s best bet for the opening slot, he answered his critics in the most sublime way possible. Comparisons were drawn with Graham Gooch prior to this show, but one could crib little after this effort — 201 runs after two days of toil on a pitch that had bounce and carry for seamers and turn for the spinners. He meticulously trekked through his innings before accelerating towards the end. At 182, he smashed two big sixes to reach to 194 and then made his way to become the first Englishman to score 200 on an Indian turf.
At the other end, Mike Gatting was in his element, plundering every bowler that was drafted in to break the ominous stand. In due course of time, he too reached 200 — this was the first time that two English batsmen had made double centuries in the same Test innings — and England went on to win the Test by nine wickets.
This incredible knock came in Fowler’s 20th Test; little did one expect that the 21st, at Kanpur, would be his last. The ban on rebel players was lifted after the series, which led to Gooch’s return. Owing to neck trouble, Fowler was sidelined, which made the decision to swap quite simple for the head honchos. Thereafter, he slipped off the radar, his form never returning to what it was. He remained a force in the domestic circuit, representing Lancashire, but donning the whites for England he never would. At the age of 27, his international career came to an abrupt halt.
After retiring from all forms of cricket, he set up a Cricket School of Excellence in 1996 in Durham, apart from gracing the commentary stage. One of his most renowned students is former English skipper Andrew Strauss.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )