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Absolutely Foxed – Graeme Fowler Interview

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To accompany Martin’s review of his new book former Lancashire and England batsman Graeme Fowler kindly agreed to be interviewed about two of the most important things in life, cricket and beards:-

We’ll start with a question that tends to polarise views. Were you a walker?

Always. First of all that’s the way my father brought me up to play the game but, if I’d ever had any doubts, they would have been dispelled after my first appearance for Lancashire Second XI. At one point there was a big appeal against me for caught behind. The ball had hit my pad so I stayed put and the umpire kept his finger down. At the end of the day’s play the coach, John Savage, asked me whether I hit the ball. I told him I didn’t of course, and he looked me in the eye and said “That’s good, because if you’d said you had I’d have made sure you never played for this club again.”

I would take a different view if I was setting out in the game today though. The umpires have lots of help these days, and as they will readily accept it’s their job to make the decisions. I felt very sorry for Stuart Broad in that ridiculous incident at Trent Bridge in 2013. I’ve got no doubt at all that he knew he had hit the ball and that he was waiting to be given out whereupon he would have walked off. Equally I am sure he was as horrified as anyone when Aleem Dar gave him not out and he realised what the reaction would be. But what could he do? He’d be undermining the umpire if he’d walked after the decision was given.

Did you have any superstitions?

None at all. I think all superstitions are ridiculous. When I was getting ready to go out to bat I would always prepare myself in the same way, but that was a question of routine rather than superstition. If for any reason I was ever interrupted it wouldn’t trouble me.

One of my favourite bowlers of your era was Sylvester Clarke. I remember watching him bowl against Lancashire at the Oval on one occasion and your having a real battle with him. You weren’t batting at all fluently but toughed it out with Sylvers and got a few runs before one of the support bowlers got you out. I looked over at Sylvers who was rolling his eyes and obviously thought he should have had the wicket. What was he like to face?

Sylvers was a difficult bowler to bat against. He could produce an extra yard of pace or a very sharp lifter from nowhere. He had few scruples about hitting batsmen either, and if he could sense they were scared of him he would often try to frighten them before trying to get them out. And there were plenty of batsmen who were scared of him, particularly right handers because he swung the ball into them and tucked them up. It was slightly easier for me as a left hander as the ball went across me rather than into me and I could leave it or, depending on your perspective, play and miss.

Personally I got on okay with Sylvers. There was a mutual respect there. I remember playing in a benefit match once at Preston North End’s ground at Deepdale. For a few years they had an acetate playing surface there. He paid me quite a compliment when he told me that because I stood up to him he only ever tried to get me out and didn’t waste his energy trying to intimidate me.

Sylvers was very quick, but wasn’t the fastest bowler I faced. That was probably Michael Holding, and because Sylvers couldn’t move the ball both ways he wasn’t as good as bowlers like Mikey, and Malcolm Marshall who moved the ball in and out, but he was certainly one who was feared and a very good bowler.

On the subject of bowlers were there any “ordinary” bowlers who had the Indian sign on you?

As an opening batsman you have to face what are generally the opposition’s best bowlers when conditions are most in their favour. The concentration is intense and I did get out to first change bowlers more often than I should have, like the occasion you saw me bat at the Oval. It can only have been because I relaxed slightly and made a mistake as a result. It’s difficult to think of particular individuals but Colin Wells of Sussex, not that he was a poor bowler by any means, gave me more trouble than he probably should have.

And any top-class bowlers you always seemed to do well against?

Doing well probably isn’t the right phrase, but I found it much easier to bat against bowlers with a classical action. Two examples are Alan Donald and Michael Holding. They were both great bowlers and always likely to get you out because of what they could do with the ball, but they were much easier to face than others who had less conventional actions. Jeff Thomson and his sling shot action was one example, and the West Indian Eldine Baptiste another. Baptiste was very much the lesser light amongst the West Indies pace attack in 1984 but I found him difficult to bat against as he leant back so far in his delivery stride it was difficult to follow the ball.

Still on bowling you yourself took a few wickets and your average of 36.60 wasn’t too shabby at all – were you underused by your captains?

Definitely not. I bowled a bit of medium pace but only generally when we were looking to offer up  a few cheap runs to try and persuade the opposition to declare. That said I was on a First Class hat trick once, against Warwickshire at Edgbaston in 1986. They were after quick runs and Alvin Kallicharran edged a straight one to Chris Maynard behind the stumps. Geoff Humpage was next man in. Geoff was a good enough batsman to get a couple of ODI caps and was a decent striker of the ball. I decided to bowl at him in the style of Mike Watkinson and he was laughing so much he forgot to hit the ball and was bowled.

……… and the hat trick delivery?

Unfortunately I fired it down the leg side.

Did the skipper give you a full set of close catchers?

Certainly not – the way I bowled they’d have been in grave danger.

Do you keep in touch with your long time Lancashire opening partner Gehan Mendis, and if so what is he up to?

Gehan and I had what I would call a good professional working relationship but we didn’t socialise outside the team and I haven’t seen him since I left Lancashire. I have no idea what he might be doing now. He was a quiet bloke. I would be surprised if any of the Lancashire side were still in touch with him

Back in 1986, after you had sorted out your neck injury, you played your last two ODIs against India. In the first you had just got going when you were run out whilst batting with Mike Gatting – whose fault was it?

I do remember that well, and it was Gatt’s fault. I played a late cut for what I thought was a comfortable two. Gatt was never small but in those days he was still quick on his feet and he thought the shot was worth three and set off so fast that he had all but finished his second run as I turned at the end of the first and collided with him. He knocked me flying of course, and I was run out by the length of the pitch.

As myself and the rest of your supporters have no doubt that you would have gone on to make your first ODI century had it not been for Gatt’s intervention are we right to blame him for the end of your international career?

It would be a bit harsh to do that. It was the selectors who had a problem with me. In 1987, so the year after my last ODI, I had my best season ever. I scored 1,800 runs and averaged more than 47. If Graeme Hick hadn’t made a big score right at the end of the season I would have been the leading run scorer in the country yet despite my success on the sub-continent in India in 84/85 that wasn’t enough to even get me in the selectors’ thoughts for that winter’s tours of Pakistan, Australia and India. They sent out thirty letters asking about players’ availability. I wasn’t even one of that thirty.

On the subject of England captains I have it from a not very reliable source that you were involved in the letters “FEC” being emblazoned on the kit bag of a young Mike Atherton. What can you tell me about that?

You clearly know your source well. I wasn’t involved and before you ask I can’t shed any light on whether the letters stood for “Future England Captain” or not.

Do Roses matches mean as much to players as they do the supporters? I see you have an average of 42 against Yorkshire with four centuries, your best record against any of the counties other than Warwickshire.

Yes they were always something special, and the players on both sides know how important the matches are for spectators.

On the other side of the coin you have a poor record against Somerset, averaging just 23 – is there any particular reason for that?

I don’t have a good record against Middlesex either. I remember playing at Uxbridge, their out ground. It was a flat easy-paced wicket yet I never made runs there. Taunton was the same. I think there was probably an element of what resulted in my being dismissed by change bowlers too often at work here, and that I relaxed just a little too much in benign conditions and suffered accordingly. Interestingly that 1987 summer when I did so well was one where there was an experimental return to uncovered wickets, so there was no predictability there meaning I had to concentrate more.

When did you first wear a helmet?

I was told I had to wear a helmet when I started playing for Lancashire. I had had one for a while but didn’t always use it. I didn’t like the visors and face guards and just tended to wear the helmet itself with a couple of pieces to protect the temples unless I thought there was any particular danger.

Were you ever hit on the head?

Twice, once by the West Indian Winston Davis and once by Neal Radford. Davis bowled a leg side bouncer at me. I ducked, but it just didn’t get up, so I ducked further and turned my head on the ball and was hit on the back of the helmet. It was a good job it pitched outside leg otherwise I’d have been lbw.

The Radford one was different. It was at Old Trafford. The light wasn’t good and the pitch wasn’t a great one and Radford came round the wicket and bowled a short one. I lost it completely and it cannoned on to the side of my helmet. My ear was cut. I batted on until the end of the over but I didn’t feel right and after I had a word with Gehan I retired hurt.

In 1994 Don Topley gave a press interview in which he claimed the end of season Lancashire v Essex matches in the County Championship and Sunday League in 1991 were fixed – you were playing for Lancashire in both games – what was that all about?

I’ve never understood that one. We played three day Championship cricket in those days and it often wasn’t easy to get a result without a finish being contrived. The captains and senior players would get together and try and cut a deal. One skipper might suggest a target of x runs in y overs. The other would come back and suggest a few less runs in a few more overs and they’d negotiate. Sometimes they struck a deal and sometimes not.

 In that particular game against Essex Neil Fairbrother eventually agreed to set Essex 267 in what amounted to 67 overs. They needed to win to clinch the Championship and although what we set them was the sort of target you’d expect they batted very well, we didn’t bowl very cleverly and they pissed it with 10 overs and eight wickets to spare.

 I don’t know what Don heard in his dressing room, but I can’t imagine the discussions were a secret and probably did start during the Sunday game which we won and he suggested we were allowed to win. I can only think he misinterpreted something he heard. That sort of situation cropped up regularly and was part and parcel of three day cricket. In no way was it analogous to match or spot fixing.

And finally, it really is a splendid beard – are you a hipster?

I don’t know what one of those is, so I suspect not. I just like beards and have often had one. I got special permission from my wife to grow this one about four years ago on condition I didn’t touch it for a year, which I didn’t.

Do you use any product to help preserve it at its best?

I certainly do. I buy oil and balm from the Brighton Beard Company, and in mischievous moments I wax the moustache.

Comments

i saw Fowler play a number of times but never saw him play for England. My favorite memory of him is seeing him score 90 odd against the West Indies at Aigburth in 1984 for Lancs v the WI. Don’t know why that match ever took place but it did and on a blisteringly hot day and against the afore mentioned Malcom Marshall.

Comment by paul mullarkey | 10:38pm GMT 6 June 2016

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