Cricket: No flair please, we're British

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The Independent Online
What a strange week. But then it's not every week that you can see a third of the country's population wandering around in a zombielike trance, unaware of anyone or anything around them. Tripping over kerbs and small children, strolling vacantly across dual carriageways and into train tunnels, sensible cricket-loving folk have spent the entire week in a haze of furious incomprehension. Even the England football team's grittily pathetic performance on Wednesday failed to make any impression on them. I myself have just sat around, glaring blankly into the middle distance, trying to come to terms with the terrible news. Why on earth wasn't Gower picked for the Indian tour?

Sports administrators and selectors, of course, have been roundly applauding this decision as another great victory in their relentless war against flair. To them, flair is something nasty and foreign, like frog's legs or malaria. One only has to look at those horrible sneaky Brazilian footballers, and the way they tangle the ball around defenders' feet, to know that there's something a bit suspicious about flair.

In Britain we don't do things that way. In Britain we stick with solid midfield jobsworths called Geoff, and appoint as international manager a man whose greatest years were spent at Watford. Only last week, Glenn Hoddle said that in his 50-plus internationals he was asked to play in his proper position just once. (By an amazing coincidence, England won that match 4-1.) You can imagine the uproar. Across the nation administrators and selectors were up in arms. 'What?' they cried, as one man, 'Do you mean to say that Hoddle was allowed to play in his proper position as often as once?' These days cricket administrators and selectors are no different, and look askance on anyone who doesn't wear a track suit as normal leisurewear. Flair to them is something ships send up when they're in distress. In the case of Gower, though, persistent research and bribes have revealed that his omission was in fact a perilously close call. In the end, it seems, it came down to a choice between him and his old chum Mike Gatting, he of the bulldog spirit and silly beard. Comparing Gatting's record (loads of runs against useless county bowlers but intermittent success in Tests) against Gower's (no runs in county cricket but thousands against the best attacks in the world), there was obviously nothing to choose between them, and so other things had to be taken into consideration. The top secret criteria, as leaked to this column by 767 disinterested observers, were apparently as follows:

Effort. Gower was known to be happy to give 100 per cent effort, but Micky Stewart was apparently unconvinced by this by pointing out that in the past Gatting had spoken many times of his determination to give 110 per cent, 130 per cent and once, allegedly, 210 per cent effort. Even despite the enormous inflation in effort in recent years - which as yet has been unaffected by sterling's entry into the ERM - this was thought to be a telling statistic.

Age. Gower's age was held against him, in that he's much older than Hick and Fairbrother, and nowhere near as old as Gooch or Emburey.

Loyalty. The England committee's recent emphasis on loyalty was cited by Gower supporters, but rejected when it was explained that, in this case, 'loyalty' means 'loyalty to players who picked up a huge pile of money for touring South Africa a few years back'.

Left-handers. Always useful on those pitches that take spin in India, which is why they're not taking Jack Russell either.

Playing better than anyone else. Some selectors thought Gower might well play better than anyone else, which could upset some of the more sensitive batsmen in the side and prove harmful to team spirit. Far better to take players who aren't any good at all.

Authority. After Gower's mild one-line criticism of India's bowlers in his fearless and controversial new book, the selectors thought his attitude to authority, which has often been shown to be lax in the past, might yet prove destabilising on a tour of such immense political sensitivity. After all, when has Gatting ever had enormous finger-wagging arguments with umpires on the subcontinent? Precisely.

Silly beard. After detailed perusal of the evidence, Gower was held not to have one.

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