Mike Gatting: How to survive in the India cauldron when the heat is on
England's last Test series win in India owed much to Gatting's return of nearly 600 runs. He tells Kevin Garside why Alastair Cook's current tourists can finally emulate the class of 1984-85
The details are a little sketchy now. He recalls entering the 190s, closing on the double ton, the heat, the fatigue, the deep concentration. Beyond that it is the little chats with Graeme Fowler at the other end that Mike Gatting remembers most, getting through the day in conditions no cricketer ever experienced at The Oval or Lord's. Gatting was the Alastair Cook of the 1984-85 tour of India – England's last series win in the country – not captain but run-maker general, 575 in five Tests with a highest score of 207, made in the fourth Test in Madras in tandem with Fowler, who hit a double of his own, 201.
Gatting was the rock around which the series victory was built. When time allows over the coming five days he will be glued to the television or radio, as engaged almost as if he himself were walking out to bat alongside captain Cook in Nagpur. Gatting admits to the occupational hazard of ex-skippers, playing from his chair, intuiting every shot, every delivery, making mental adjustments to the field, dropping silent hints to the batsmen. The drink breaks can't come often enough.
"I find myself talking to myself when I see things going the wrong way, perhaps, when you can see a batsman getting a bit twitchy. Subconsciously I'm saying, 'Why did you hit that shot? Play with the spin, just take your time, calm down, just nudge it around a bit. You have got yourself in, don't get yourself out. When the bowlers are on, be patient, don't try too much, just keep it there, not too many bad balls, keep the pressure on', stuff like that."
His knock in Madras was the greatest of an international career that, though slow to take off, yielded 10 centuries, a good number of them, as Graham Gooch would say, of the daddy variety. Looking back across 28 years the minutiae of his nine-hour-plus vigil have blurred into dusty recollections, steamy impressions provoked by watching Cook endure in the same furnace seemingly without breaking sweat.
"We were at the crease such a long time. The humidity was 90 per cent in 90 degree heat. You were changing your gloves every half-hour, trying to get as much water down as you could. It was hard work. I remember talking regularly, telling each other, 'Let's get through the next half-hour, let's get through to drinks, to lunch etc'.
"If one of us was struggling a bit the other would take the strike while we got sorted, got through to drinks, a bit of fresh air, a cold towel on the back of the neck then go again. That's the sort of thing I remember. I don't remember hitting too many balls, apart from a couple of sweeps when I was getting close to 200. I hadn't played many at all. I went for it and they both came off, going for fours."
Gatting profited from captain David Gower's pledge to play him in all five Tests come what may. It proved an astute investment by Gower, who in contrast could barely get the ball off the square. Cook, too, faced a formidable challenge, that of establishing his presence as captain if not nailing a place in the team. The failure to pick two spinners and the consequent loss of the first Test threatened all kinds of doom. Cook led the recovery from the front, erecting a run mountain unprecedented in the English game. Gatting set the record straight, too, if only to himself.
"I had a lot of things to prove, a few demons to lay if you like, scoring runs in the Test match arena and doing the things you have to do as a batsman. Thankfully, I was able to do that. Cookie has had to step up to the captaincy. This affects some more than others. Some cope better than others. In Cookie's case it has made him even better than he was doing already. He's got to 500-plus runs in three Tests. It took me five. That's a great achievement.
"In the first couple of Tests, particularly in the second when he had [Kevin] Pietersen hitting the boundaries, Cookie had about four shots that brought his runs, a backward cut, drive through extra cover, a nurdle through square leg and the odd sweep or two. When he really fancied it he whacked it over midwicket and that was about it. He knows in his own mind what he is doing. He has a game plan and sticks to it. He is very good at that. And over there it is important to do that."
Gatting, who is now head of cricket partnerships at the ECB, expects England to see this through in Nagpur and repeat the achievement of the Gower generation. The scale of the recovery under Cook has buried the disappointment of last summer's defeat to South Africa and raised the prospect of further plunder in New Zealand and in the twin Ashes conflicts against Australia starting next summer.
"We had chances to win matches against South Africa but we lost the important moments. In India, first Test aside, we have caught better than they have, bowled better and batted better. It sounds simplistic but, as Andy Flower says, if you do the basics right then you have a great chance of winning the match. That's what good sides do. If not then you are coming second every time."
Cook's monumental assault on Indian cricket has exposed inherent frailties and shone a cruel light on the demise of the greatest accumulator in the history of the game. Sourav Ganguly has already called on Sachin Tendulkar to hang up the willow. In respectful tones, Gatting also suggests the time might be nigh. "There is always a lot of politics in Indian cricket. You just hope that someone like Tendulkar will retire on his terms. I hope he doesn't have to be told. He has been a wonderful player and it would be sad to see him go because he hasn't got any runs. There is a time when you have to bite the bullet, say 'Yeah, I've enjoyed it immensely', and get out on top. That might well happen after this series."
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