‘It’s that dreaded start to a sentence, ‘David, we think you’re doing a great job, but…”: Gower to leave Sky but has no plans to retire just yet
- Former England player David Gower is leaving Sky Sports after The Ashes
- Gower was a Test cricketer for 14 years before moving into broadcasting
- The 62-year-old was cast aside as Sky change the direction of their coverage
David Gower seems to have led such a charmed life that it’s slightly jarring to hear him talk about the future in a language other than fluent bonhomie.
In some ways, he does not naturally invite sympathy — envy feels more appropriate. Tall, graceful and golden-locked, he spent 14 years being purred over as the most elegant England batsman of his generation.
And he has transferred his languidness to the commentary box, working with Test Match Special, Australia’s Channel 9, the BBC and Sky, where he has spent the past two decades.
David Gower is leaving Sky Sports after fronting their coverage for this year’s Ashes
This summer is his last with Sky, though not by his own choosing. As he puts it, in typical Gowerese: ‘I have no intention of retiring to a hilltop in Peru yet.’
Gower is 62 (‘nowadays that feels very young’) and wants to begin by saying he has loved his time alongside Nasser and Athers, Beefy and Bumble. Yet there is no escaping the sense of loss he will feel when it all comes to a close next month at the Oval, so often English cricket’s amphitheatre of farewell.
‘I am — and I have to pick a word carefully — unhappy that it’s ending,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘However people try to explain the reasons, the times they are a changin’.
‘I actually do love the job. Some people suggest I don’t — or maybe I have moments off. We all have days off. But I do love being around it. It’s my environment and I feel comfortable there. If there’s a way of staying in it, that would be wonderful.’
How did the beginning of the end of this phase of his life come about?
‘It’s that dreaded start to a sentence: ‘We think you’re doing a great job, but…’ That, of course, leads to where we are now.’
Can he say how the sentence finished? ‘Not really. The gist of it is they want to move on and change style.’
Gower was a famously stylish batsman, a attribute he has displayed in front of the cameras too
In what way? ‘Have to ask them.’
Essentially, Gower believes his face no longer fits, although he takes issue with the premise.
‘I’m aware that our demographic for Sky cricket is kind of my demographic. Their research proves that. The main part of our watching public for Test matches is of a certain age and probably white males. So it’s a shame I can’t keep appealing to them and keep them happy.’
Which brings us to the trend towards greater diversity in cricket broadcasting.
‘It’s an interesting one,’ he says. ‘In the same way as the men, people who come into the commentary box, some find it easier, some find it harder. They all work very hard.
‘To their credit, they know they are at the forefront of a new regime. It’s exactly the same as the argument for men’s sport versus women’s sport, which is, if you’re good, if you understand what you’re doing, if you have the knowledge to go with it, there’s no problem. It’s as simple as that. I think broadcasting should be diverse, is the easy answer.’
The idea that Gower will not be snapped up by a new suitor is hard to credit. He honed his skills at the feet of Richie Benaud, who taught him the under-rated value of silence, and he has a healthy disdain for the hype that infects some commentary.
‘There are certain people doing certain things out there — I would rather shoot myself first. If you’ve ramped it up to 10 out of 10 at 11 o’clock in the morning, you’ve got nowhere to go through the day. Sitting at home watching the World Cup, you do work out who’s rather good at it and who shouts.’
Colleagues, meanwhile, speak of his unflappability as Sky’s studio anchor and Gower chuckles at the memory of one of Ian Botham’s old pitch reports which, back in the day, were pre-recorded. Botham had made a hash of his first attempt, muttering: ‘Oh f***, let’s do that again.’
The English batsman avoids a Geoff Lawson bouncer in 1982 against Australia
But a mistake in the studio meant they broadcast the sweary version, leaving Gower to pick up the pieces. ‘I remember looking back at the monitor, seeing me saying: ‘Trust me, it’s a good pitch’.’
It’s clear he will miss these seat-of-the-pants vignettes — perhaps because the brief surge of adrenaline takes him back for a moment to his playing days, when he averaged 44 in 117 Tests and scored nine hundreds against Australia. In 1985, with 732 runs in the series, he was an Ashes-winning captain — famously brandishing the urn on the Oval balcony. The fear of uncertainty is understandable.
‘When you’re dropped by England, there are normally ways back in,’ he says. ‘When you come to a fulcrum in your career, it depends how much control you have about what happens next. If there’s a strongly niggling concern, it’s that I don’t know what happens next.’
And so here he is, a high-class mic for hire, at a fork in the road. Gower would love to reunite with his old Leicestershire team-mate Jonathan Agnew on TMS, where his first gig came in the 1989-90 Test series in the West Indies during one of his late-career spells out of Graham Gooch’s side.
Gower’s dulcet tones will be missed on Sky, but he still has four more Tests to present
There are highlights shows, too, though he suspects the BBC will not come calling with offers of work during next summer’s new 100-ball competition, saying: ‘They’ll probably go for someone rather different.’
First, though, there’s the matter of his final commentary stint with Sky during the fifth Ashes Test at the Oval in mid-September.
‘That’s a very poignant question,’ he says. ‘The answer to that is I’ve thought of all possible ways of finishing and have decided that carrying on in the same style is probably the best.
‘I haven’t quite planned what to say, or whether just to go off air and walk away. But it could be 30 seconds of ‘Before I go, can I just say it’s been fun, it’s been a privilege, I’ve loved every moment, I wish you all well, goodbye’. That’s what I think is the best.’
Benaud, you suspect, would approve.
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