Cricket / Third Test: Lyrical Gower sings old tune: Henry Blofeld hails the immortal beauty of a mortal champion flowing sweetly

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The Independent Online
THE whole country gave an enormous sigh of relief when David Gower unrolled as elegant a cover drive as even he has managed to become the highest scoring England batsman in Test cricket. It was a wide half-volley from Aqib Javed and Gower hit it as if his entire life had been a preparation for this moment.

They were an extraordinary first 34 runs. They encapsulated the complete Gower: the beauty of classical batsmanship, the amazing, almost inconsequential ease with which he plays, the very casualness which drives both friend and foe to distraction, the joy, the humour, the irritation and the frustration were all there, as was that little-boy-lost smile.

First, there was the reminder that he is only mortal. His second ball, bowled from wide of the crease, was short and lifted; it found the shoulder of the bat and flew over the slips for four. It might have gone to anyone. Gower, as usual, looked miraculously unconcerned at the end of it all.

His third ball was a wide half- volley and he stroked it for four with an ethereal disdain as if playing in the father's match at school. It took me back to that morning in Sydney in early January 1991 when Terry Alderman was effortlessly eased through the covers again and again and again.

Even Gower has his bread-and- butter strokes and now he tucked Aqib off his legs behind square for two. Ten in his first over and already there was plenty of that unique combination of agony and ecstasy which Gower's batting seems inevitably to combine.

It was agony again in Aqib's next over when he square cut and the ball flew through Salim Malik's hands at first slip for four. There was no need to play at this one; shades of that infamous shot in the over before lunch at the Adelaide Oval when fine leg hugged the catch. Now, Graham Gooch said something to him - maybe that he was writing another book.

In the West Indies in 1985-86, the debate over Gower's captaincy may have centred around those much-publicised optional practices but no one fought harder with the bat, and six years on he was facing something similar and handled most of it with infinite style. Gower's bravery is no less admirable because it is so inconspicuous.

The only thing we had not had by now was the flick off the body which can, as it did in that first Test match in Brisbane, end up in leg-slip's hands. There was not long to wait. Wasim Akram pounded in again, Gower flicked, Moin Khan dived and the umpire signalled four.

With the cricketing world on the edge of its collective seats. He now played the most delightful of workaday pushes off Aqib through mid-on for three. When Aqib bowled his next over up came the wide half-volley and it was met with that delicious cover drive and the record was Gower's.

These few strokes which took him past Geoffrey Boycott's record gave one a glimpse of almost every innings he has ever played and were also a warm and exhilarating microcosm of his whole career. We saw exactly why Gower would always be in some people's sides and never in others. This time, too, he played a big part in taking England to safety. Unfortunately, that has not always been the outcome.