IPL is the benchmark for Twenty20 format: Gower
Ashes-winning captain and a left-handed maestro, David Ivon Gower, spoke to The Telegraph almost exclusively on the IPL and the challenges faced by Test cricket.
In recent weeks, the 62-year-old Gower has been crisscrossing the UK for his On The Front Foot theatre show, which has naturally been attracting handsome audiences.
Five shows have been scheduled for May and, then, around 20 in October-November. In between is the World Cup and the Ashes.
Q You made your IPL ‘debut’ during your visit to Calcutta last month. Thoughts on the League?
A The IPL has led the way and is the benchmark for the T20 format. It’s the League which all others follow. The sense of drama comes through and to see that sort of a crowd (during the Kolkata Knight Riders vs Kings XI Punjab match) was most impressive. Also eye-catching was the way Shah Rukh Khan was involved with his franchise... It’s an irony that England didn’t start a similar League 10 years ago. That’s why we had to do something different — The Hundred, which starts next year. I can understand why the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) wanted to do something different, otherwise, it would be following the IPL. Although, I must say that would have made sense in many ways even if late. Having the same format as the other Leagues across the world would ensure the records remain the same.
Q Have the T20 Leagues been beneficial for cricket or largely only made a difference to the lives of so many cricketers?
A There has been a lot of benefit to the sport, not just for the players. What’s interesting is that for everyone, whether players from overseas or the younger ones from India, the experience of playing before big crowds in an electrifying IPL atmosphere is invaluable. The size of the (live) audience brings expectations and, therefore, pressure. The IPL, in particular, has been brilliant in teaching everyone how to play under pressure... The standard of fielding is outstanding, bowling under pressure is part of one’s learning curve and batting has got a new dimension.
Q Learning to play under pressure could certainly be projected as the IPL’s USP...
A Indeed... You get placed in front of huge crowds with huge expectations. It’s a terrific training ground for playing pressure cricket. There’s no room for mistakes and that, I think, is great education for any player from anywhere.
Q Overall, then, has the IPL been good for cricket?
A The balance sheet would be positive, yes. As I said, it’s the benchmark for the format.
Q No minuses at all when we talk of the IPL and the T20 format?
A It’s tough for the coaches of young players as their wards only want to hit the ball out of the park. It’s hard convincing them that the other way of playing the game is to be very good at it.
Q One school of thought is that had the IPL not quickly taken wings, the T20 format may not have threatened Test cricket to the extent it has. Are you in agreement?
A Not entirely... The International Cricket Council restricts the amount of T20Is so, internationally, the format didn’t creep in that much... Actually, there are different forms of threat, one being players deciding to play in the IPL and not wanting to feature in International cricket. Then, there are ramifications that come with the style of cricket, which is so different. Which is why I’m mightily pleased that India captain Virat Kohli has made so many public statements endorsing Test cricket. I’m sure most players still believe succeeding in Test matches is the ultimate. But, then, the difference nowadays is that those who know they won’t be good at Test cricket can make a good living elsewhere (in a T20 League).
Q You’ve mentioned the bit about cricketers turning their back on their country. The West Indies have, over the years, suffered the most...
A Cricket in the West Indies has been badly managed for many years and I wouldn’t blame any of those players who’ve turned their back on International cricket. In many ways, they had no choice. Chris Gayle has played Test cricket, has a highest score of 333, but that was a long time back... As an individual, you manage your career, but you take a risk. You get well paid (in the T20 Leagues), but have to keep producing results as well. It is an anomaly... If the West Indies grew dollars, and not bananas, then they could have afforded to pay their players. Things might have been different then.
[There has been a change of guard in Cricket West Indies, with Ricky Skerritt toppling the long-serving Dave Cameron. So, maybe, there will be changes — both visible and behind the scenes.]
Q You’re obviously for Test cricket remaining the pinnacle of the sport...
A We all like Test cricket and will do everything to try and keep it at the pinnacle. But if the world decides not to, well, then let’s just keep it there for as long as possible.
Q Emotions aside, what’s the future you see for Test cricket five years from now?
A In the UK, we still have good crowds at Test matches, but that is not so all over the world. The question is: How many people are following Test cricket, even if they are not necessar-ily at the ground? It’s the hidden audience that will be shocked if Test cricket disappears as much as those that like the atmosphere and the way the format is played. It’s not only about how many people are present at a stadium.
Q Are you a supporter of The Hundred?
A The biggest problem is that it has taken the ECB so long to get there. Although, if it succeeds in being different, it might actually turn out to be good and interesting... The ECB has lot of work to do with the marketing of The Hundred in the same way as the IPL had to be sold to the audience in the first two-three years. We already have a T20 competition for the Counties and we have to shoehorn The Hundred into the summer. There are flaws for sure, but I don’t want to demolish it even before it starts. It will take two-three years to get a clue as to how it would work and how people identify with it. The Hundred will take time to be accepted... We have to see if we are setting a record or missing one.
Q Finally... Would you gamble by including Jofra Archer, uncapped till now, in your World Cup XV — he’s not in England’s provisional squad?
A Probably would. Jofra has made a reputation in the IPL, has natural talent and great temperament. He has experienced playing in front of big crowds and experienced the weight of big expectations. Having said that, I don’t know who to leave out for this exciting talent... The Jofra option is there and one has to see how he fares against Pakistan. I would play him in all the matches (one T20I, five ODIs). We will then get to see Jofra and be able to assess the form of the others besides, of course, observing what fitness issues there might be in the provisional squad for the World Cup.