James Lawton: You can rely on Lord David Gower to stir the Australians into an Ashes fervour

He has a part to play for a company with an interest in raising the hype

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If David, sorry, Lord David Gower hadn't been such a beautiful stroke-maker you might have said he was born to irritate Australia, in which calling he has now surely surpassed all previous efforts. We can probably skip his dig about the difficulty of having a cultural clash with a nation which doesn't happen to have one.

No, if anything is going to galvanise Down Under on the run-in to the Ashes it is not going to be any airy assertion on the inherent superiority of English life.

Much more provocative is the truly insulting suggestion that the average Aussie needs at least 10 cans of lager to work up some contempt for any whingeing Pom, let alone one with a plum in his mouth as big as the Sydney Opera House.

Of course Lord Gower knows precisely what he is doing. He always has, as anyone who was at Lord's on the controversial day that the England captain told the media that unfortunately he could not talk to them because it would make him late for the theatre.

He has a part to play, and on this occasion it is as an extremely accomplished broadcaster for a company with a huge vested interest in cranking up the Ashes hype.

It has been a miserable excuse for ancient, stomach-churning antipathy so far, but maybe things will look up now that an insouciant English rabble-rouser has stepped out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse.

In fact, close observers of the Gower style and mood could probably have anticipated the onslaught on Australia and arguably one of the weakest squads they have ever sent here.

He was in especially imperious form in a discussion with a quite different kind of Englishman, the amiable Lancastrian David Lloyd, during England's catastrophic performance against New Zealand in this week's one-day international.

Bumble said how pleasant it would be to have one's own tennis court as the cameras caught two ladies doing battle next to the ground. "I have one," said Lord Gower.

Soon after, the cameramen focused on a nearby swimming pool and, as quickly as he used to flash the one through the covers, Gower said: "Before you say anything, I've got one of those too."

Delicious timing, no doubt, but how well it went down in some of the more financially embattled sectors of the nation we, of course, cannot be sure.

We can be sure of the rumblings in Oz, however. As a superb example of English snootiness, Gower's musings to the Radio Times are certainly worthy of a little repetition.

"I'm tempted to say, how can you have a clash of cultures when you are playing against a country with no culture? That would almost be sledging."

He also talked about the perils of fielding on the boundary in Australia. "You're in trouble. If they've had 10 cans of lager their ability to come up with something akin to Oscar Wilde diminishes.

"A lot of it tends to be very stereotypical. But it's feral, if they sense weakness they will come at you. It's the same with sledging. There's a certain animal mentality, and if they sense a bit of weakness they will try it on more.

"The great thing is just to smile because the smile completely confuses them. But then the best way to keep Australian bowlers quiet is simply to score runs. If you're 120 not out they tend not to say much."

This is all very well, but as the Australians flounder in their cultural deprivation, mourn the departure of such titans as Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey; they still do not look the most suitable candidates for having their noses ground into the dust. They can claim, in their desperation, to have made something of a contribution to the Ashes series, leading it by 31 to 30 as it stands.

Not so long ago they enjoyed a 20-year-old span of domination in which they did not so much gloat over their huge edge but beseeched England to find a few players of sufficient talent and competitive character to give back the series at least a little of its old meaning.

It is certainly true that these are not the salad days of Australian sport. They have problems across the board, and not least in the need to root out widespread drug problems. However, if we are talking about rival cultures, in sport at least, it cannot be said England's is so strong that Australia is due anything like some recent examples of deep-seated scorn.

In denying them a culture, Lord Gower, let's face it, almost certainly went a little too far, though perhaps not in terms of his immediate ambition. That was to warm up the Ashes. Concentrating Australian minds was, presumably, not part of the plan.