Sport on TV: Gatting's insatiable appetite was the recipe for success

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The Independent Online

Never mind what's in Linford's tucker box. They should have sent Mike Gatting into the jungle for I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! (ITV1). He would have devoured every grub, spider and kangaroo bollock they could throw at him. The only problem is that Fatting might have eaten everyone else's share of the stars he won as well, not to mention a couple of the other contestants.

It's 24 years since a group of Englishmen hungry for fame last conquered the local critters Down Under. Gatting's 1986-87 Ashes tour was rightly celebrated in Gary Newbon's Time of Our Lives (Sky Sports 1, Wednesday). But before they pocketed the urn again, they endured bush trials and tribulations in the upcountry matches that saw them labelled the "can't bat, can't bowl, can't field" team (by a cricket correspondent of this parish).

Gatting's men retained the Ashes with room to spare but the corpulent captain revealed he was still upset at losing the final Test of a dead rubber. It must have been like enjoying a lovely meal in a restaurant and then everyone else deciding they don't want pudding because they're full.

His fellow guests were Phil DeFreitas, who roomed with Ian Botham on his first tour, and Gladstone Small, who had been nicknamed "Manos" the previous winter when playing for South Australia, after a local poultry farm in Adelaide whose slogan was "All meat, no neck". You could feel Gatting salivating as Small told the story – and whenever he referred to Botham as "Beefy". When Botham took five wickets in the pivotal Fourth Test at the MCG, Gatting described his bowling as "the biggest load of pies you had ever seen", and you just knew that had to be a lot of pastry.

But it was alcohol that fuelled England's triumphant progress. Botham was sponsored by a wine merchant; David Gower, naturally, by Bollinger; John Emburey by Johnnie Walker; and Allan Lamb was backed by some French liqueur. Botham had just returned from a ban over "the contents of his bedside cabinet" as Gatting put it, or marijuana, and one wondered what would happen to the planet's sustainable resources if Gatting ever had a spliff and an attack of the munchies.

After the urn was secured, thetour descended into even greater degeneracy as Botham became master of ceremonies with the assistance of Elton John. In most cases, the words "I'm still standing" were not applicable. But "It's gonna be a long, long time" certainly was.

Gatting's life would change quickly. The following winter would see him prodding umpire Shakoor Rana in Faisalabad, and the summer after that he was sacked as captain, with unseemly haste, when the tabloids ran a story alleging shenanigans with a barmaid. Good job, then, that Mark Nicholas was never an England captain. The man who makes love to the camera is back on ITV as the face of their hugely welcome terrestrial highlights package, a feed of Channel Nine's estimable home coverage.

Nicholas described the first day's play as "extraordinary, breathless and exhilarating" as if he were writing up his profile for a dating website. As the awaited the start, he said to Mark Taylor: "Before we go upstairs, a final comment from you." Once in his boudoir he clearly doesn't like anyone to interrupt his flow.

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