David Gower, 8,231 still not in: Richard Tomlinson believes little is to be gained from a Gentlemen's disagreement over the most elegant of batsmen

Click to follow
IN THE days when first-class cricketers still wore flannels, the amateurs were called Gentlemen and the professionals were called Players. Gentlemen, after coming down from Oxbridge, had their own changing rooms, their own entrance to the pavilion, and stayed in a separate hotel when the county team was on tour. In 1962 the cricket authorities declared them extinct when the game was officially professionalised; but on Tuesday night - so it seemed - their spirit returned to haunt the hard-nosed administrators of English cricket.

Two hundred and sixty members of the Marylebone Cricket Club had signed a petition demanding the inclusion of David Gower, that epitome of the gentleman cricketer, in the England party to tour India this winter. One hundred and eleven of them turned up at Lord's, headquarters of the MCC, to insist on a Special General Meeting to debate the resolution that MCC members have no confidence in the England selectors. Wouldn't it have been better to send a stiffly worded letter to the selectors on behalf of the club? No, it definitely wouldn't, they said, and they will get their meeting.

Round one to the Gentlemen - or was it? On closer inspection, some Gentlemen look more like Players. Here was the playwright Harold Pinter, once a supporter of Nicaragua's Sandinistas, joining forces with that scourge of the Establishment, Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer. And leading the charge was Dennis Oliver, who - surely not? - makes his living in hire purchase.

Ironic, too, that the chairman of the England selectors is Ted Dexter, or 'Lord Edward' as he was known to fellow cricketers in the Sixties. Dexter played in that last Gentleman vs Players match (for the Gentlemen, of course), but tired of the county circuit, preferring to play golf or fly his own aeroplane. In temperament he was remarkably similar to that other amateur aviator, David Gower, which makes the present controversy all the more piquant. The case for Gower, put by Harold Pinter on Tuesday night, is straightforward; he has scored more runs (8,231) than any other England player at a consistently high average (44). The selectors' declared reason for not picking him is that, at 35, he is too old, and room had to be found for a younger player. Given that they have recalled John Emburey, who is 40, and the captain, Graham Gooch, is 39, the suspicion lingers that Gower was omitted because his idiosyncracies - including flying aeroplanes during matches - were thought bad for team morale.

Gower is idiosyncratic, or just plain lazy, depending on your point of view. He doesn't like the fitness training that is one of Gooch's obsessions, and after a hard day's cricket he prefers to go wine-tasting than have a lager with the lads. But what makes him a special case to the protestors is the way he has scored all those runs - more gracefully than any England player since the Second World War.

They are right that he should have been picked, not for his elegance, but - strange though it seems - for his dependability. It was Gower, after all, who saw England to victory at Headingley last summer, as wickets fell at the other end. They are wrong, however, to press their view on the selectors - a futile hope in any case. The selectors are there to choose what they see as the best team, not - in Oliver's quixotic words - to heed what 'the people of England' think. In assuming they speak for England, they should beware of that arrogance which was once the hallmark of an English gentleman.

The author is a member of the MCC.