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David Gower looks back at the last time England came to town

The Cooper Associates County Ground will stage the IT20 between England and South Africa in just one month’s time.

Ahead of what promises to be a memorable day we met up with former England batsman David Gower OBE to look back to the last time that England played an international at the Ground.

Let us take you back to June 11th 1983 when England took on Sri Lanka in the 60-over World Cup at a packed County Ground.

England went in to the game on the back of a big win over New Zealand in their opening fixture of the tournament whilst Sri Lanka lost their opener against Pakistan.  The Three Lions also boasted two huge local favourites in their line up in the shape of Ian Botham and Vic Marks.

England Captain Bob Willis won the toss and decided to bat and his side posted a total of 333 for nine from their 60 overs.  Gower top scored with 130 from 120 balls in an innings that included five sixes and 12 fours which saw him receive the man of the match award on the day. Allan Lamb also impressed with 53 from 51 balls.

Graham Dilley took two early wickets as Sri Lanka found themselves in trouble at 17 for two before half centuries from Duleep Mendis and Guy de Alwis gave the visitors hope.  However, Vic Marks ripped the heart out of the middle order on his way to five for 39 as Sri Lanka were all out for 286 to give England victory by 47 runs.

What does the former Hampshire and Leicestershire man remember about that day? “Taunton has the reputation for being a good batting pitch and it was the same back then,” he said.  “The pitch that day, as I remember it, was a good and true pitch.  If you wanted to play a few shots you could trust the bounce and the pace and I was having a pretty good run of form at the time.  I’m pretty sure that it was my most productive World Cup and I was enjoying myself.

“The one-day game back then was a very different beast but one of the few things that really remains the same is that whoever gets in needs to go on and make that big score. I had plenty of time to get in and was in good form so it was incumbent on me to go on and make that big score and it’s the same now as it was then.  You get yourself set, you get yourself ready to have a crack at it and that’s exactly what I did that day. When the time came, it was time to clear the boundary.  For me to hit five sixes was rather unusual though!”

A partnership of almost 100 between Gower and Lamb put England in control and it was a partnership that the former enjoyed massively. “We were both pretty good at that format of the game but we never really spent a huge amount of time together at the crease,” he said. “I loved it when we did though because he’s one of my great mates and we had a lot of fun.  We were different types of players, which is quite handy when it comes to building partnerships.  If you have two batsmen who are the same then bowlers can set themselves better than if they are against batsmen with different strengths.  When you have one of your mates at the crease you can have a lot of fun especially when it’s working, which it did that day. To give Allan credit, he did some of the most extraordinary things that I saw on a cricket pitch during that era.”

Whilst Gower and Lamb excelled that day, the expectant Somerset faithful failed to see Ian Botham hit the heights that he so often did for the County.  Somerset’s talisman was run out without troubling the scorers and also finished wicketless much to the surprise of everyone including his team mate. “That was a huge disappointment for the crowd and also Ian that day,” said Gower. “He had a lot of fans down there that day which is hardly surprising given how he played his cricket.  It was a rarity for Taunton to have an international match like that and he was keener than anyone to mark the event with something special.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty about steeling his thunder though! It would have been great for him and for all the Somerset fans to see him in full flow but it just wasn’t to be that day.”

Although Botham failed to make the headlines that day by contrast his Somerset teammate Vic Marks excelled as Gower recalls. “If you’re going to talk about contrasts then the difference between Vic and Ian was huge,” he said. “The only similarity was that they played for the same county! Vic was a much more understated character but he was a very canny bowler.  If you transplanted him in to the current era he would still be successful because of his understanding of the way the game works.  He was a vital part of that team in the competition.”

England posted a total of 333 for nine from their allotted overs but did he think that was going to be good enough? “We were confident that our score would be enough I think,” he said. “I can’t remember the exact conversations that we had about that on the day because it feels like it was 3000 years ago. In the context of the era though that was a good score and Sri Lanka were still to hit their peak. It’s clichéd to say it but you should never underestimate your opponents but with that many runs on the board in 1983 you would feel confident and so it proved.”

England were given a massive boost when Graham Dilley took two early wickets and Gower was full of praise for his former teammate. “Graham was right up there in terms of pace,” he said. “He had the ability to swing the ball at pace and he was a very potent force with the new ball.  Raw pace un-nerves even the best and he had that pace.  He also had one of the longest deliver strides you’ll ever see.  It was a long dragging stride reminiscent of a bygone era and he was a fearsome prospect.”

Gower finished the tournament as the leading run scorer but what is his outstanding memory of the competition? “Ironically the thing that stands out in my memory most is losing the semi-final,” he said. “Although many people would say that the 1992 team was probably the better all-round team and was our best ever chance of winning a World Cup, the 1983 team had played pretty good cricket throughout the group stages and we just got it wrong at Old Trafford in that game against India.  That sadly is what stands out because we felt that we were certainly good enough to get to the final and had we got there it would have been nice to have another chance against the West Indies having lost to them at the previous tournament.  Obviously you can’t think that if India won it then we could have won it but it would have been nice to have another crack at a World Cup final.  Sadly it wasn’t to be and as people so rightly say it’s deeply disappointing to lose a semi-final because you have that prize of a final in your sights and we just didn’t get it right.”

Does he have fond memories of playing at Taunton during his career? “As a player Taunton was one of my favourite grounds and during that time Somerset was a team full of great names,” he said. “There was obviously Botham, Richards and Garner but also many more besides. It was a real challenge playing down there against a very good side.  The biggest challenge was surviving Botham off the field in Taunton after play and I failed that more than once!  Taunton was always a good place to play.  It’s a sociable town and there’s always a great atmosphere at the ground.  It’s been interesting to watch the development of the ground over the years from afar.  I think it’s good to spread the international game across the country and take it to different venues where the game is well supported.”

What are his thoughts ahead of next month’s IT20? “England have taken their one-day game to new heights and South Africa have some spectacular players so you’ve got the makings of a high scoring contest and it should be a great event.”

Pictures courtesy of Getty Images

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