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MIKE GATTING in conversation with STEPHEN CHALKE

Written by Stephen Lamb

Stephen introduced Mike as one of only four men alive who’ve led England to an Ashes win in Australia, someone who recorded his best first-class score of 258 in Bath in 1985, and Mike Brearley’s successor as Middlesex captain. He was surprised to get the latter job, not least because there was a man – Philippe Edmonds - who really wanted it. However the view amongst the team was “Anyone but Phil”, so Mike got the nod. Phil was fantastic on the park, but prone to be distracted by sponsorship opportunities, not least in the early days of the mobile phone. Mike also recalled how Peter May offered him the England captaincy in 1986. “Have you told David yet?” “Well there’s no point telling David until you’ve said yes!” “How long have I got?” “About 30 seconds.”

In both jobs, Mike viewed Brearley as something of a mentor, less in what he did than why he did it. He tried to make younger players feel part of the team, be honest, rely on his gut feeling and recognise that everyone is different. Spin was an important part of the Middlesex attack then; “You don’t face spin now unless you go down to Taunton!” Mike played alongside Fred Titmus early on, before the emergence of John Emburey, and feels that turning wickets are less encouraged now than when he was playing, partly in consequence of the Championship being confined mainly to the start and end of the season. Mike – partly through having toured the sub-continent six times - loved playing spin bowling with fielders around the bat, with all the pressure, combined with crowds of over 60,000, that was put on the batsman.

Mike also recalled captaining Phil Tufnell, who responded when asked early in his career whether he preferred Astroturf or Grass, that he’d never smoked Astroturf. He slept a lot, went through several marriages, and was prone to struggle mentally. Nor was he much easier on the field; “The only place he was easy in was the bar!” He was a reluctant field setter, terrified of the ball coming back at him, and his overall talent was somewhat diluted by his niceness. On a turning pitch, however, he was a class act. He couldn’t bat, save on one occasion when Mike Rosebery offered him a bottle of champagne if he could hit his first ball for six, and he duly obliged.

Asked about Shane Warne’s ‘Ball of the Century’, “1993, June 4th, 3.30? I don’t remember it that well, actually!” The England camp had heard of Warne, who’d played in a couple of Test series without much success, but knew he could turn it. Australia had reached 150-odd for three at Old Trafford when day one was ended by heavy rain, which made the wicket more spin-friendly the following morning, as the tourists crumbled to 240 all out against Tufnell and Peter Such. England’s reply started well, with Graham Gooch and Mike aiming to get through to tea. Warne was brought on to bowl the last over before the interval, The first ball looked set to go down the leg-side but turned prodigiously, beating bat and body to flick off the off bail. “Mate, you’re out!” said Warne, or words to that effect, and the umpire raised his finger. Gooch told him he’d lost his concentration, thinking about tea and doughnuts. Given Warne’s career after that, Mike isn’t too upset about having been dismissed in such a fashion.

Reminiscing about the 1986/7 Ashes win down under, when he was captain, he emphasised the importance of Micky Stewart’s role as Manager after a difficult summer here, losing to both New Zealand and India. Mike asked Ian Botham to look after the younger bowlers in particular, and to play as many or as few warm-up games as he wanted. On the eve of the first Test at Brisbane, Botham encouraged the squad to forget about the difficult warm-up period. “Whatever eleven goes out there tomorrow, I believe we can beat the West Indies, sorry, Australia!” He sat down, and nothing more needed to be said. Botham scored a hundred and England won the Test, thriving as the series progressed primarily by keeping it simple. After drawing the next two they clinched the Ashes in the fourth Test at Melbourne, celebrating memorably through the night after winning in four days. Beefy looked back on that tour as his best with England.

In an entertaining question and answer session, Mike was colourfully critical of the umpiring in Pakistan, which culminated in the stand-off with Shakoor Rana at Faisalabad in 1987 for which he later apologised. “Margaret Thatcher told me I had to!” He does now say to kids that it’s not the right thing to do, but recalled some highly controversial decisions by one umpire whom he described as man of the match. Neutral umpires soon followed, a positive development for the game as a whole. He spoke of the regret that he felt about going on the unofficial tour of South Africa which led to a three-year ban from playing for England. He recalled the late Bob Willis’s great passion for the game, and playing for England, which he famously crowned against Australia at Headingley in 1981, with Mike taking two catches.

He would have loved playing T20 “if I was 22 again,” and thinks it’s fantastic for the game, although it could do with some pruning. He opposes reducing Test cricket to four days, and still vividly remembers Malcolm Marshall’s rearrangement of his nose in a Test match at Sabina Park. “When I walked out we were 12 for three!” Malcolm said to him, “You hold de bat still, and I’ll try to hit it!” When the ball hit him, “It was like running into a brick wall,” and such was the force of impact that a fragment of bone was left in the ball. Recalling a more positive experience, when he and Graeme Fowler both scored Test double centuries in the same innings in India, he acknowledged the faith shown in him by his captain, David Gower, who told him before the series started that he was in the team for the duration.

Mike emphasised the importance of the ECB’s income from Sky in supporting club cricket, helping players at that level learn the life skills that team sport can provide. On The Hundred, he was positive about the limited re-emergence of cricket on terrestrial television, and pointed to the success of T20, which had met with extensive early scepticism. “Let’s see what happens. As long as they keep Test cricket, I don’t mind.” He also looked back on a pleasurable year as MCC President, visiting different parts of the country and learning more about what makes that august organisation tick. Thanking Mike for his contribution, Stephen reflected on the remarkable journey he had made from a working class background, through an outstanding playing career, to such extensive recognition

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