Wednesday, 27 July 2011

GOWER PEN: INSULAR?


There are certain things that you can only really admit when there’s little left of your bedraggled, bullet-riddled reputation left to salvage, when one’s stock is a-tumblin’ and unlikely ever to be restored. So it was that, halfway in toward the collection of skeletons in the deepest recesses of my closet, I happened across a somewhat corny poem that I had written as an 18-year-old (which in itself is an disclosure I’d rather not make) about a cricketer I greatly admired. (I won’t say a hee-ro, ‘cos what’s a hee-ro...)

The uninspired title of this uninspiring eulogy was ‘Ode to Gower’; the verse was penned in a blizzard of delusional self-congratulation and speedily despatched to the man in question, then of Hampshire, from whom I received a gracious if understandably perfunctory reply (pictured below), more of which in a moment…

While its tone was undeniably mawkish, a younger generation might not realize that Gower hasn’t always been the slightly leathery anchorman for Sky Sports’ international cricket coverage, a polite middle-class ying to Botham’s bumptious yang (albeit with the same Bacchanalian streak). No, he was once the flashing blade of English cricket, a man who hooked his first ball in Test cricket to the deep-square fence and thereafter scarcely reined in his attacking impulses, gathering 8231 Test runs at 44.25 to lie third on the England all-time run-scorers list behind men of utterly opposing character in Gooch and Stewart, quintessential sergeant-majors both. That said, in his Cricinfo profile, former Wisden editor Matthew Engel speculates, baselessly, that “his devil-may-care attitude hid some complexities, perhaps even an inner loneliness”.


Anyway, despite his stellar record, Lord Gower was always viewed with a certain degree of suspicion by the joyless roundheads at the TCCB (antecedent of the ECB) and thus was often, it seemed, playing for his place. They saw him as a dasher, a dilettante, dangerous and distracting. A scapegoat in, um, goat’s clothing (well, coiffeuse). Capricious. None of which quite mitigates my poem’s bootlicking butteriness, of course…

However, the benefit of an improved understanding of my teenage psyche – otherwise known as revisionism – now permits me to explain all this away as a ruse: clearly, the phrase “good that fortunes at Moddershall are improving” implies that I’d taken the trouble to inform him of our circumstances (we were in our third year in the NSSCL, then a two-division league, and would that year win promotion), no doubt in an effort to get Gower, then in his last year of international cricket, to attend an event at Moddershall CC – you know, a race night, quiz, pool comp, that sort of thing. As it was, he was probably out hunting yak. In a tiger moth.

The presumption – or, I suppose, optimism (naïveté, even) – is pretty staggering, now that I reflect upon it. At that stage I no doubt thought it entirely reasonable that a former England Test skipper would pop up to rural Staffordshire as a heartfelt thank you for a piece of cruddy adolescent verse – I hadn’t gone through the Copernican revolution of the self, and therefore still thought everyone else was a planet orbiting me, the earth (the sun, of course, shone out of my arse).

Anyway, the point is this – I can now pronounce,
as a sort of politburo of my adolescent id, that the poem is not the unambiguous hero-worshipping schmaltz of a teenager. It is subterfuge, designed to get a famous face to help out my club (altruistic version) and in so doing garner myself a vast dollop of kudos (egoistic version). Given the unlikelihood of it happening, however, I might just as well have saved myself the trouble (not that it was much trouble), wandered down to some cricket ground at which he was playing, and bellowed, in the manner of madmen the length and breadth of the land: “Oi, Gower – come cut this ribbon for us, ya gifted square-driving twat, ya!” 

As you can see, Gower’s reply was entirely in keeping with the persona now familiar to us from the Sky chair: indulgent up to a point, but firm. For those struggling with his handwriting, it reads:
Dear Scott,
Thanks for the letter – and the poem: familiar, but nonetheless appreciated sentiments. Good that fortunes at Moddershall are improving – I hope all continues to go well.
Yours sincerely, David Gower.
Now, if I were feeling particularly sensitive, the phrase “familiar…sentiments” could be interpreted as a withering assessment of the hackneyed ideas in the poem, as cutting as it would be for WH Auden or WB Yeats to endure a critique of their use of zeugma or chiasmus [insert clever use of zeugma or chiasmus]. That said, I wasn’t writing for the Bridport Prize. I simply thought, in my own insane way, that I could get him to Barnfields for a beer. I’m still Waiting for Gower

What’s that? Oh, the poem. Here. If you must:


ODE TO GOWER  

There’s no finer sight in the game of cricket 
than to see David Ivon Gower strolling to the wicket
at Lord’s, the opening Test of the Ashes,
the first act of another of those titanic clashes –
he enters the fray at 20 for 2,
all England praying he can make a few.
Languidly he stands at the crease,
running fingers through that golden fleece,
awaiting the bowler – fairly quick –
he rocks back, then…a little snick,
he offers a simple catch behind.

“What must go through that lad’s mind?”,
sighs a Yorkshireman in the crowd,
“Bloody terrible!!” he screams aloud.
“First ball he faces is wide and short,
flamin’ obvious he’d go and get caught,
but could he leave the damn thing alone…
now our chances of winning are blown;
another cheap wicket the Aussies have bought,
Mr Gower out for bloody nought.
Now, you know I don’t like to criticize
but I don’t think the lad even tries!”
His young son tries to disagree
but the wise old veteran interrupts his plea:
“Look, son, you’re barely a youth –
Gower couldn’t care less, and that’s the truth”.

Second innings and England are deep in trouble
chasing 330, Aussies starting to bubble.
Remember the phrase “cometh the hour…”?
Well, out to the middle strode David Ivon Gower.
30 for 3 and backs to the wall,
our cavalier – on a pair – awaits his first ball…
Short and wide, it’s crashed through the covers,
up leaps the Tyke with Gower’s other fickle lovers
and yells “Well played, son, smashing shot!!!” –
what short memories some folk have got.

Australia’s bowlers begin to cower;
with perfect placement and latent power,
with cuts and drives, glances and flicks,
Gower moves effortlessly to ninety-six.
Desperate, the Aussies, to find a match-winner,
they toss the ball to their number one spinner
who flights it up, with a hint of drift,
but Gower just dismisses it with a roll of the wrists
and as the ball speeds away over the ropes for four
the prince of cricketers is a hero once more.
The crowd stood to proclaim a scintillating ton
and within the hour England had won;
Gower was back as the idol of the nation,
as he drank in another standing ovation.

Now, our Yorkshireman came to realize
just what he’d seen transpire afore his eyes,
and that night, before he went to bed,
turned to his beaming son and said:
“Some folk criticize the way that he plays
but if they could see him on his majestic days
when a cricket ground would be brim-full
just to see one commanding pull,
a lazy flick or elegant drive,
the sort that brings the day alive,
they’d forgive him the odd mistake
(something simple, as you or I would make)
because what he has just cannot be taught:
the man’s a genius, a true God of our sport!”

Now you now why I pay twenty quid a ticket,
just to see David Ivon Gower walk to the wicket.