Mike Gatting

'The Shakoor Rana incident still rankles'

The former England captain on team hierarchy, playing under Gower and Brearley, winning the Ashes, that Test in Faisalabad, and more

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

"When Gower sort of stuck his neck out for me, a chord was struck and I wanted to repay him one day" © PA Photos

Cricket brought me an education in life and made me a rounded person, taught me discipline, taught me fun, taught me to deal with people, to appreciate life.

It was just a game for a long time but when I started watching Test cricket and players like Basil D'Oiveira, who used to bowl a bit and bat a bit, and Kenny Barrington, who was a fighter; John Snow, who could swing the ball at such high speeds... then I started to enjoy it much more. These were people I admired and wanted to be.

It was great to have Botham in the dressing room. Before the 1986-87 Ashes, when he made a comeback, some of the people involved didn't want to pick him. I said to them, "You've got to be joking."

You don't have the top players coming over to county cricket anymore, so obviously the standards have declined. The strongest county cricket, I thought, was from 1976 to the 1990s, after which the central contracts came in and the coaches would not allow the players to play because there was too much Test cricket being played.

I hated watching myself on TV. I would rather talk to coaches than watch myself on television.

After playing for five years I knew what I was doing wrong. When I came first into county cricket, I was good on the off side, but then they worked me out by bowling a lot straighter, knowing I couldn't play across the line. So for the next six months in the winter I practised the on-drive. Then they found that I couldn't play offspinners to save my life.

It was only after 1985 that I started to bat like I was batting in county cricket.

The only disappointment was not doing well against West Indies: I would get to 40, 50 or 60 and didn't want to go on long enough, even as I got through against the rest of the world.

When I started, there was a hierarchy in the England team, as was the case in the counties. You only spoke when you were spoken to. That was the barrier Mike Brearley broke down. He knew there was a clique running the team and he knew whatever he did was never going to be accepted because he was not part of that. Because he was a bright man, he recognised that, and while retaining his authority as captain, he still made everybody feel a part of the team.

Cricket is addictive for many reasons: it is never the same, you meet different people, it takes you different places, you make lifelong friendships, you learn to win, you learn to lose, you learn about excitement, enjoyment, frustrations and disappointments.

Brearley was the best captain.

Gower played a big hand in my inclusion in the 1984-85 squad to India. He told the selectors: "Look, Gatt is without a doubt our best player of spin and we've got to take him." But they said, "Well, he hasn't done well over the years and blah blah..." But David didn't relent and told them he wanted me as the vice-captain. So we were in Bombay in his room and he said, "I want you to bat at No. 3, if that's where you like to bat. If it doesn't go well for the first two Tests, you're going to bat at No. 5. But you are playing the whole series." With a bit of luck I got to my first hundred and then went to score another in the one-dayer in Pune. I just felt a different person in Test cricket. I felt comfortable.

I was really in and out in my first few years. I hadn't lost my belief in myself but I just couldn't get that belief in Test cricket. It was always sort of one Test match, two Test matches, then you're out for not getting runs.

"One of the reasons I signed up to play the rebel tour in South Africa was because we were told by FW de Klerk that he was going to release Nelson Mandela"

I promised myself that if I ever was put in charge of the team, I would make sure even the youngest member would be made to be part of the team straight away. When Gower sort of stuck his neck out for me, a chord was struck and I wanted to repay him one day. That was a catalyst. In the next four years I played like I wanted to play.

It was difficult to take over mid-series [from Gower] when we were 0-1 to India. I lost my first Test as captain, at Headingley, all because we had one bad period where we lost five or six wickets to Roger Binny. So that wasn't a great start. We then had to resurrect at Edgbaston. Fortunately I managed to get 183 not out and we managed to save the Test but lost the series 2-0. We then took on New Zealand with Botham absent. When we got to Trent Bridge, we found a very green wicket. Richard Hadlee got a five-for and we lost the first Test. The only fortunate thing was I was playing reasonably well. Then Botham came back in the last Test at The Oval. The atmosphere in the dressing room changed immediately. I thought it was just me. But it wasn't. He got a wicket with his first ball, we bowled New Zealand out quickly, I got a hundred, Beefy was in. We were in front by 200 runs and it rained for two days. So I lost my first two series as captain. It was a hard way to start, but it made me more determined to get right by the time of the Ashes.

I was forced out of the captaincy because of the Shakoor Rana incident. I ended up losing three years of my career when I could've been playing for England.

When I was 18 or 19, Brearley came down to me during a game and asked, "What do you think we should do"? That showed two things: one, he was quite sure I was drifting a bit in the field and thought I should be watching the game, trying to think about what was going on. The other was "Gosh, the captain's asked me, the youngster." By asking a simple question to a young boy, he was giving him the confidence and the feel of being part of a very important team which was a big thing in a young boy's life - playing for a county, adopted at Lord's, in front of lots of people.

Ego and confidence both play a part in a player's success. Some people do have bigger egos than others, but that does not mean they have huge confidence; in some cases ego covers up the lack of confidence. Gower always seemed confident about his own ability without having an ego. You could see Beefy always had a huge ego: he was never wrong, he could do anything. But sometimes it was perhaps due to lack of confidence, which he was not prepared to show.

We could have won that Faisalabad Test. It still rankles. What really annoyed me most was that the reason given to me was that I was moving fielders without the batsman's knowledge. But the same batsman came in the following morning and said, "Yes, Mike told me that he was moving the fielder." That was disappointing. But in some ways it was good for cricket because neutral umpires came in immediately after that episode.

I should have got a hundred in my comeback Test in Calcutta, but I got 80-odd. If I had got a century I would've been back in the groove. Having not got to the three-figure mark, I had to start again. You don't often get a second chance to start again.

The Ashes [1986-87] were my best series, since I won my two Tests as captain in Australia. We should have won the third one, in Sydney, too. When we went there people started to say "England can't bowl, can't bat," which I felt was short-sighted. The senior guys took umbrage and sorted them out. I told the senior players I needed their help. Having played three years in grade cricket, I knew what sort of cricket to expect and how tough it was going to be. So I got the guys on board and it was good. Everybody did what they said they would do, which was very pleasing.

I never ever got to the bottom of why the MCC offered each player ₤1000 to stay back in Pakistan [after the Shakoor Rana furore]. They wanted us to stay there and the whole team wanted to come home. I think there was big trade deal being finalised between Pakistan and England and they didn't want to break off diplomatic relations.

"In some ways it was good for cricket because neutral umpires came in immediately after that episode" Graham Morris / © Graham Morris

I went to South Africa for the rebel tour because we had people running the game who were dishonest. They promised to do things but didn't and I couldn't cope with that. I had a family to look after. One of the reasons I did finally sign was because we were told by [South African] president FW de Klerk that he was going to release Nelson Mandela. In many ways they were honest, and that's what happened.

Being dismissed off the ball of the century by Shane Warne means I am a part of history, which is nice.

Nineteen eighty-five was a complete victory because we won the Perth Challenge, the World Series and the Ashes in Australia. We were touring for nearly four and a half months, so it was a huge effort. A nice thing for me was when Botham said it was the best tour and the most enjoyable one for him.

I had a chat with Both and said: "Look we are going to take a young side [to Australia, 1986-87] and I would love you to look after the bowlers." I told him the press were obviously going to be on our back and would be focused on him, but for the first month I would like him to look after the bowlers, do the right thing. Once the Tests started, he could do as he liked. He was brilliant. I think he appreciated the fact that somebody came and asked him for help.

To be a good captain, you have to make people feel part of the team. In Australia I was perceived to be going out with Allan Lamb, Ian Botham and David Gower. But I did the opposite and made sure I went out with the young guys. Plus, I didn't want to go out with those three because they were party animals. I didn't want to know what they were doing. So that was a big effort for me, to make sure I knew and understood all the young guys.

The game has progressed in a sensible manner and we are probably getting closest to being as good as we could get it with regards to umpiring, the use of technology and neutral umpiring, which took out that horrible element of bias. It has become a more open game.

You regret any stroke that gets you out. In the 1987 World Cup I played the reverse-sweep all the time, because it was a good shot to play. And I had practised it. It is like any shot - if you get out to it, it is not a good shot. I knew where the ball was going to go, the bowler knew where the ball was going to go, the wicketkeeper did. He bowled it so wide, perhaps I should have left it, got a wide and made him bowl straighter. But at the time I was keeping the momentum going, and had the ball not hit my shoulder it would have gone for three or four and we would have won the World Cup.

Malcolm Marshall was the best bowler I faced. He would think you out. He could swing it both ways, he was quick enough to give you trouble, he never wasted a ball. He was a thinker, and the trouble was he could carry out what he wanted to do.

My biggest regret was what happened with regards to the people running the game in the late 1980s who ruined English cricket for 10 years. It has recovered now because those people are not there anymore.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo