For two decades, it was a sight as characteristic of Lord's as Father Time himself: Mike Gatting, with jutting beard and strutting gait, biffing the ball past extra cover for Middlesex or England. If a spinner was bowling, he probably wouldn't be on long: 'Gatt' murdered spinners. Squat and tubby, he never looked a sportsmen from a distance, though at close quarters his oak-tree forearms gave a clue. He was a natural, a point recognised by the selectors when they sent him on tour as a 20-year-old, in 1977-78. But it would take seven more years, and 54 Test innings, before he made a hundred. In the meantime, he batted every position except first violin. Finally, he reached maturity with 136 in adversity at Bombay, an innings of such guts that the British press broke its rule and applauded. Then there was no stopping him.
His captaincy - the job came a year later - had a bristling quality, like his batting. But the triumph of the surprise Ashes win in 1986-87 was followed later that year by his argument with the Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana - routine in most sports, shocking in cricket - which reverberated round the world. Gatting's bristling had got the better of him. It took six months for Gatting to be sacked, and then it was ostensibly (and ludicrously) because of an alleged sexual encounter with a barmaid. The selectors wanted him back in 1989 but their choice was vetoed; Gatting, in pique and sadness, took a rebel team to South Africa instead and the captaincy never came back to him. He had a sense of fair play and not much subtlety; he suffered for being a straightforward man in a game run by dissemblers.
Mike Gatting travels from New South Wales Australia