Gower: Need to take Test cricket to the next generation

"We need the cricketers, particularly from countries such as the West Indies, to be paid better for Tests. Otherwise, they will all move towards Twenty20 cricket," says former England skipper David Gower.

David Gower delivers the K.S. Narayanan Oration, organised by The Sanmar Group, in Chennai on January 30.   -  M. Moorthy

Joe Root, according to David Gower, used to hang back a lot but now has improved his front-foot play.   -  Getty Images

Runs flowed from this elegant southpaw’s willow during his playing days. Now words of wisdom roll off his tongue.

Fresh from delivering a stirring K. S. Narayanan Oration here on Saturday, David Gower did not shy away from tough questions during his conversation with Sportstar on Sunday.

Articulate as always, Gower’s answers were nuanced and thought provoking.

Question: India toured Australia last year and, save Brisbane, the pitches were very batsman-friendly. In the recent ODI and Twenty20 series down under, the surfaces were incredibly flat. Isn’t the trend of even Australia – where the pitches are normally lively – preparing tracks like these disturbing?

Answer: This has been a tendency around the world. Part of the problem could be drop-in pitches. Even at Lord’s, during the Ashes, the pitch was very flat. At Nottingham, there was more life and we saw an Australian collapse. Some of the modern-day line-ups lack the resilience to bat through tough conditions.

So we have plenty of flat track bullies these days...

There are many of them. But some of them are good enough to make runs in difficult conditions too, such as Kane Williamson, Joe Root, Steven Smith and AB de Villiers.

Muttiah Muralitharan once said that the broadcasters were to be blamed for making such tracks because they stood to lose money if a Test match ended too soon…

 

Interesting. But actually, the broadcasters are assured of their income for a Test irrespective of when the match concludes. Actually, it helps them if the match finishes early because the production cost is reduced. It is the ground authorities who stand to lose more through loss of gate money.



Are bigger bats and shorter boundaries making the contests even more lop-sided?

The bats these days might look bigger but some of them in my time were a lot heavier. It’s not just the bats these days. The bat-speed and the sheer physicality of the players can send the ball a long way.

You said ‘physicality’?

Yes, some of the boys today are so big! The modern-day training is more dedicated to improving the physicality of the cricketers.

Yet, somewhere along the line, the subtlety could be lost. Is footwork a casualty?

In some cases. On pitches that do something, you need footwork, technique and brain. Back-foot play is very important. But you still have someone like Williamson who moves beautifully back and forth. Root used to hang back a lot, now he has improved his front-foot play. These are quality players.

We have spoken a lot about batting. Don’t you think the quality of bowling, particularly pace bowling, is not the same anymore if one considers the number of destructive fast bowlers who were on the prowl in your playing days?

There were a lot of good fast bowlers in my time, from the West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and England. Then there was Richard Hadlee from New Zealand. Probably that kind of depth is not there. However, you have some very good pacemen even now. I think Anderson and Broad, Southee and Boult, and Steyn and Morkel are terrific combinations. It’s a hard job. Some of the pitches do not have as much in them any more.

You hinted during your oration that helmets could have adversely impacted footwork, particularly against pacemen…

I said you couldn’t just get on to the front foot and pull a fast bowler if you didn’t have the confidence of the helmet protecting you. Without helmets, it was a question of survival and your instincts often taught you the right method. The manner Ian Chappell got back and across for the pull shot was exemplary.

Are you for four-day Tests?

No. But I cannot be selfish and say because crowds still come to watch Tests in England, it should be the same everywhere else. I also realise that one needs to take Test cricket to the next generation.

But say, if a team batting first scores 450 for one in the allotted 100 overs of the first innings and the other side makes 460 for nine during the same period, how will it be fair on the side batting first?

That is one of the concerns. The captains will have to change the way they set fields. And if you talk about day/night Tests, they may not work at all venues.

Don’t you believe one of the biggest problems with cricket these days is that it does not reward excellence. For instance, Twenty20 cricket is essentially shallow in nature and it is here that cricketers make the maximum money. Test cricket, which is the most demanding form of the game, pays a cricketer far less.

I agree. That is why we need the cricketers, particularly from countries such as the West Indies, to be paid better for Tests. Otherwise, they will all move towards Twenty20 cricket. This is perhaps why Chris Gayle made the choice of playing in Twenty20 leagues around the world over representing the West Indies in Tests. It is here that the countries other than the big three (India, Australia and England) need more from the ICC’s revenue pool. I am happy that the ICC is now moving in the right direction under Shashank Manohar.

Hasn’t money from Twenty20 cricket forced several cricketers to think of an early retirement from Tests? It’s the easy way out.

It has. And this wouldn’t have been the case 10 years ago. This is why there should be a greater parity in payments across formats. It’s important.

Don’t you feel the ICC should be lauded for the manner in which it has come down on bowlers with illegal action?

There is a lot of good work that the ICC has done, including the DRS. But it has to be fair in the allocation of funds so that there is development of cricket all around.

Your take on the Chris Gayle incident?

Gayle would surely like to re-visit the issue. It was an error of judgment. But it’s not the worst crime committed by a cricketer.