Mike Gatting: The intriguing journey from Faisalabad to Lord's

Mike Gatting will supervise MCC s Vision of Lord s programme, dealing with its redevelopment. He will begin his one-year term on October 1, and will be at the helm when MCC celebrates the bicentenary of the Lord s Cricket Ground in 2014 © Getty Images

From the altercation with Shakoor Rana, his unceremonious removal as England captain and a disgruntled rebel tour of South Africa, Mike Gatting has come a long way to be nominated as the next President of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), writes Arunabha Sengupta. 

In the summer of 1980, Middlesex cricketers had been walking across the outfield of Lord’s for a practice session at the Nursery Ground. Suddenly there was an outraged cry, emerging from a top window. And the players had to go back, and take the long route behind the stand. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) hierarchy was renowned for not wanting people to walk over their beloved grass. Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, infuriatingly canny and pragmatic, had got into a car to drive around the stand. And as he had made the long walk with his teammates, Mike Gatting, then a promising 23-year-old, eyes peering up at the offending window, had remarked, “Stupid old fart.”
 
Now, 33 years later, Gatting will be taking over as the next president of the same ancient establishment — with whom he did not always enjoy the best possible relationship during his playing days.
 
Gatting had been almost synonymous with Lord’s for a during 23 year First-Class career, piling runs for Middlesex, and sometimes England, emitting his habitual cough after every boundary hit, gorging down extra chips at lunchtime, sending twelfth men to order chicken salad from the ubiquitous Nancy, polishing off cakes and sandwiches during tea, or simply doing the Telegraph crossword in the dressing room. However, he was far from being the blue-eyed boy of the old guards of English cricket.
 
In fact, even in his early days, the racket Gatting made while breaking new bats in the dressing room often incensed the keepers of tradition. Unable to bear it, the venerable Gubby Allen was known to thump his stick on the committee room floor below as a warning to the upstart.
 

A full circle
 
Gatting nevertheless served England with valour and spirit. He took over Middlesex captaincy from Mike Brearley and followed in his august footsteps to lead England to an Ashes triumph. His methods of man-management may have been in direct contrast with Brearley’s suave and sophisticated methods, but they were practical. His early instructions to his Middlesex teammates ran: “Don’t forget, jeans are not allowed on match days or away trips. And if you’re going to get pissed or poke a girl, do it before midnight.” Not really the words that would be inscribed in MCC manuals, but it did show that as far as cricket was concerned, Gatting was not ready to compromise.

Before he took over the captaincy of England, Gatting scored valiant hundreds in India and had his nose pulped by a Malcolm Marshall perfume ball. No one doubted the courage, commitment and combativeness that simmered under that jutting beard and tubby and increasingly rotund frame.
 
However, it was then that things started to go wrong. His ill-advised reverse sweep arguably cost England the World Cup. And then his finger wagging and war of words with Shakoor Rana brought events to the brink of a diplomatic crisis. Foreign Office got involved and the British Ambassador was rushed in to soothe the Anglo-Pakistan relations. Gatting, threatened with the loss of English captaincy, was forced into writing an apology. “Mike Gatting was packed off to the headmaster’s study without so much as a Wisden to stick down the back of his trousers,” wrote Martin Johnson in The Independent.
 
The showdown eventually cost him the captaincy, although ostensibly it was for the supposed presence of a bar maid in his hotel room during a Test match against West Indies at Trent Bridge. The event reeked of a set up engineered by a Midland News Agency in association with a voluptuous barmaid with loose morals, lax bra straps, and an eagerness to be a professional player in ugly games of ‘kiss and tell’. Long-time colleagues like Ian Botham were disinclined to believe in the scandal, claiming, “Whatever goes to Gatt’s room after nine o’clock, he eats.” However, the damage had been done, and Gatting was ‘sacked’. Many still consider his removal as an opportunistic manoeuvre by English selectors who had been on the lookout for a suitable opportunity ever since the Rana incident.

By all accounts, Gatting was a nervous wreck after his loss of captaincy. And when a move to put him back at the helm was vetoed in 1989, a thoroughly disgruntled Gatting joined one of the last rebel tours to South Africa.
 
He did come back to play Test cricket again for a couple of years from 1993, making useful contributions while being on the receiving end of Shane Warne’s ball of the century.
 
For someone whose career had been plagued by incidents that would make the conservative fuddy-duddies quiver in their shoes, Gatting has come a long way in the last two decades to become named as the next president of MCC.
 
The renowned goatee has become white with time. The ample figure, which jarred with the image of the athletic cricketer — although seldom lacked the agility of one, has been enhanced with additional deposits of mortal flesh. Sheathed in suit and tie, with the significantly sparser dome reflecting wisdom along with the much mellowed eyes, Gatting does look dignified. After his retirement from the game, he was briefly an England selector and coach, and then served as president of the Professional Cricketers’ Association. In 2007 he became the England & Wales Cricket Board’s managing director of partnerships. He has taken on administrative roles of importance, and performed his duties with aplomb.
 
According to tradition, each MCC president nominates his own successor. Gatting has been chosen by the current president Mike Griffith. “Few people are so closely identified with Lord’s as Mike Gatting and I am delighted that he accepted my invitation to serve as president of MCC. He made Lord’s his home for Middlesex, and made more appearances for the county than any other player,” Griffith remarked about his decision to nominate the former England captain to the post previously held by many luminaries of English cricket.

The position allows Gatting to supervise MCC’s Vision of Lord’s programme, dealing with the redevelopment of the most famous cricket ground of the world. Gatting will begin his one-year term on October 1, and will be at the helm when MCC celebrates the bicentenary of the Lord’s Cricket Ground in 2014.

It is fitting, since no one knows the venue better than this man.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)