I write at the end of a week in which Mike Gatting overslept in his hotel room and pleaded jet lag, in which England finally managed to overcome an Australian state side but there was nobody there to see it, when the Palmer Report on Cricket was discussed at the full winter meeting of the Test and County Cricket Board, and when Ian Botham’s rib injury failed to respond to treatment in time for the third Test in Adelaide. Never let it be said that cricket writers are short of topics.
The merest smidgeon of a smile twitched my lips when I read of the Gatting incident. His team so far have crisscrossed the Australian continent so many times that it is doubtful if their body clocks will ever catch up. What Gatting failed to do was arrive at the ground in time for the start of the match against Victoria. This is not the sort of thing we expect from our touring captain, is it? Apart from anything else, it implies a scant regard for the importance of the match. Would he have overslept during a Test match, you’d be entitled to ask – and you’d be right. The answer is no, of course he wouldn’t.
By all accounts, the match in question was such a comatose affair that everyone else wished they’d stayed tucked up as well. But I am still at a loss to understand why they were unable to wake him up. The captain would not be sharing a room: but did they assume he had preceded them to the ground, so did not dwell too long outside his door? Might not he have been ill? In fact, the non-appearance of Gatting at breakfast should have set the alarm bells jangling, and the fact that he would have missed the meal is, I suspect, his biggest regret. For the sake of being seen to wield a stick, the management issued a public reprimand: but privately it was a bit of a giggle, I shouldn’t wonder.
I recall a similar incident, ten years back, at the end-of-season Scarborough Festival, when a T.N. Pearce XI was playing the West Indies. At the end of the second day, Roland Butcher, Middlesex’s West Indian-born batsman, was undefeated, but the next morning, as the umpires made their way to the middle, there was no sign of him. We had assumed that he had been spending time with the tourists in the other dressing-room. I phoned the hotel, and he sleepily answered. Wasn’t he the not-out batsman? I enquired. Yes. Would it, I wondered, interest him to know that the umpires were at that very moment placing the bails on the stumps. Don’t take the piss. Then panic. The upshot was that he arrived late and lathered, went in at the fall of the next wicket to resume his innings, and won the match with an unbeaten half-century. Wisden records that he had previously ‘retired with a stomach upset’. Now you all know better.
But back to Australia. It’s not the Gatting thing that I find disturbing: it’s the response of the public to the match and to others like it. Any one who has seen the vast concrete acres of the Melbourne Cricket Ground will understand what it must be like to perform when there is the opportunity to get on first-name terms with the spectators. It is the largest cricket ground in the world, holding 120,000. Now, however, its major function seems to be as an Aussie-rules football stadium.