A rare breed

David Gower is describing the moment he first saw a Wobbegong.

Last Updated: 13/09/13 at 09:58

David Gower with his autobiography, 'An Endangered Species'

David Gower with his autobiography, 'An Endangered Species'

He spotted the shark amid a mass of marine life while diving off the Exmouth Navy Pier inbetween Tests on England's last Ashes tour and is itching to get back to the Ningaloo Reef this winter.

"The Wobbegong is extraordinary - it lies on the bottom of the sea bed looking a little like a silk purse that has gone horribly wrong," he explains in mellifluous tones. "If you happen to be a passing small fish then, quite simply, bad luck."

Brought up amid the rich natural diversity of what is now Tanzania, where his father was a colonial official, Gower's fascination with nature's rich diversity remains unwavering.

The evening before this winter's Perth Ashes Test he'll speak at a fundraising Gala Dinner in his role as Patron of the Save Foundation, set up to protect the African Rhino from the threat of poachers, combining his two passions - conservation and cricket - as in his new autobiography, 'An Endangered Species'.

"The title is an obvious reference to my lifelong affair with Africa and its conservation but also how I felt when I was playing cricket," he says with a nod towards a style often perceived to be as nonchalant as it was elegant.

"The way I played wasn't universally approved of and the way I trained certainly wasn't! At times I did feel a little bit like an endangered species.

"Nowadays players seem rather controlled - I'm sure they have some fun when they can but they are not allowed to be seen to be having fun in the same way.

"As the book explains, I was lucky to play in an era when I did have the freedom to go out for long, interesting nights with my mates Botham and Lamb, even if it was in the middle of a Test match - the sort of thing that would be frowned upon nowadays.

"There are still characters around like Graeme Swann, who every time we interview him, always has a good line and the game itself is very similar in as much as you've got to make runs, take wickets and catch your catches. But it was a different time back then with much more freedom."

Measure

Now 56, Gower is the steadfast, imperturbable anchor presenter of Sky Cricket's international coverage who is as able to dissect the minutiae of a day's Test cricket as easily as he can hold his own on a tennis court or advise on the pick of the vintages from the Leeuwin Estate.

Despite scoring his 8,231 Test runs at an average of over 44, he's never forgotten how much of a struggle batting can be and the damage that self-doubt can do and, indeed, was tempted to call his book 'There's No Easy Answer'.

"One of the first things I promised myself when I shifted from one side of the fence to the other and became a commentator was to remember that it's a very human game and that, although you want these people to do well each and every single day, and you almost expect them to do well each and every day, sometimes it is just not physically and mentally possible," he says.

"We should remember that people are allowed a bad day but over the years you get a true measure of a person.

"I'll freely admit that there were days when I wasn't up for it and if I was lucky, I might go out to bat and after 20 minutes remember what it is all about and still be there long enough to settle and therefore go about my business and get some runs.

"But on a bad day it doesn't work, you're out and you're back in the pavilion looking at yourself in the mirror thinking - in the politest possible terms - that was not good. I've never forgotten that even if it is 20 years ago."

Equanimity

At his most nervous waiting to bat against the might of the West Indies, when "all sorts of visceral fears present themselves", Gower's anxiety crested another summit in 1990 when he walked to the wicket late on day four of the third Test against India at the Oval with his place on that winter's tour of Australia far from secure.

"I was under pressure and needed runs because I'd had a poor first innings - and we had to bat out to save the game," he recalls.

"I watched Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton for five overs and then thought, 'that's enough of that' and went back into the dressing room, went horizontal, closed my eyes and kept one ear open.

"When Gooch fell [with the score on 176], I remember walking out to bat as clearly now as if it was yesterday. It was a lovely evening; I took in the atmosphere and the light. I felt beautifully settled and batted well that night. At the close of play I thought 'I'd like to go on please'. I started really well the following day.

"I won't guarantee that going to sleep before an innings always works but the nub of that is trying to do something about the tension. However you have to wait to bat, there's no point being a nervous wreck.

"I used to enjoy a crossword and be pretty good at them, but they were a way of just occupying the mind with something else. Nervous tension can keep you going but it can also drain you and it's the same out in the middle so you have to learn how to switch on and off.

"As with most things in life equanimity is everything. Just go with the flow, enjoy it and smile."

The records show that Gower made an unbeaten 157 off 270 balls to help England save the Test and win the three Test series 1-0. He went on to score 407 runs in the 1990/91 Ashes series at 45.22 - a tally only topped by Gooch (426 at 53) - on a tour which featured the infamous Tiger Moth incident...

But that's another story entirely... one you can hear more about on Monday's edition of Sporting Chapters.

David Gower's autobiography, 'An Endangered Species', is published by Simon and Schuster and is available now in hardback and on Kindle.

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