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Exclusive David Gower interview: 'Element of implied ageism' in Sky's decision not to renew my contract

David Gower working for Sky Sports TV
All-time great: but David Gower says what television wants is changing fast, and whatever it is, he is not it Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

David Gower believes there was “an element of implied ageism” in the decision by Sky not to renew his contract once the Ashes finishes next week. The comments come as the former England captain, who has spent more than 20 years with the television broadcaster, prepares for his final Test match behind the mic at the Oval on Thursday. 

Gower is thought to be unhappy with Sky’s decision and in a candid interview with Telegraph Sport has detailed how he is disappointed not to be continuing after “applying for my own job” over the past two years.

The 62-year-old also feels he has suffered due to the “rampant charge” that has seen “more diversity” in the commentary box,” adding “lots of things are changing very rapidly and evolving, which are beyond the control of people like me”.

And when asked by Telegraph Sport whether he felt his age was a factor in Sky’s decision, Gower said: “There is an element of implied ageism in this”.

Sir Ian Botham is also leaving Sky at the end of this series while the broadcaster has increasingly turned to the likes of Isa Guha, the first woman of Asian heritage to play for England, and former England batsmen Ian Ward and Nick Knight to anchor their coverage. 

And Gower has revealed for the first time that he has felt he was re-applying for his job while on the air ever since being told two years ago that he would be playing a less active role in Sky’s coverage of England’s One-Day and Twenty20 matches.

“I had a tap on the shoulder and the quote this time was, ‘You’re doing a great job but we would like to freshen up our white-ball coverage,’” explains Gower. “Now they didn’t start letting off fireworks or putting modern art displays in the commentary box. It was just a change of face at the start of the programme, and everything else was pretty much the same to be honest.

“I have had it explained to me that there are evolutionary trends in broadcasting and we’ve seen the change towards more diversity. Which is rampant at the moment, and will continue. Lots of things are changing very rapidly and evolving, which are beyond the control of people like me.

“I have tried to, as it were, apply for my own job, avidly over the last couple of years. And have been quietly rebuffed by this evolution, or so-called evolution. I would like to think that there is space for people like me. Nowadays, in the same way that diversity is very much the key, one’s definition of old is changing very quickly as well.”

“Whatever the facts and figures, the date of birth and you do the maths… I don’t feel old. I have really enjoyed this series, because I had wanted to enjoy it, if you see what I mean.”

David Gower, Andrew Strauss and Shane Warne wearing red for the Ruth Strauss Foundation during day two of the Ashes Test match at Lord's Credit: PA

Gower, however, is keen to remain in broadcasting, although he insists that last week’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, reading the morning sports news, was a one-off. “[I am] open to all offers, and showing willing where I can,” he says.

Since Gower revealed that Sky had decided not to renew his contract there has been an outpouring of affection for a broadcaster whose languid, unflustered style is seen by many to be a dying art. When approached for comment by Telegraph Sport, a Sky spokesperson said: "David Gower gave Sky Sports viewers great insight into cricket at the highest level, and we thank him for a tremendous innings in the studio for more than 25 years. His age has no bearing on our decision to evolve our line-up and continue to give our customers insightful and engaging coverage of cricket."

As the ECB seeks to introduce a new format next year, The Hundred, designed specifically to simplify the game and engage a new audience, it has made many wonder whether there is not room for his calming voice amongst the increasing freneticism that accompanies the game’s shorter formats.

“As an individual, you make your own decisions [about] how you play and similarly how you broadcast,” considers Gower. “And part of that I’m pretty sure is innate. If I started trying to ramp it up like some demented IPL commentator at the end of a close game, I don’t think it would sound right.

“You can still inject a bit of passion. You can modulate the voice to give it something when something really special happens. But it doesn’t have to be a scream. That’s an exaggeration but, each to his own.”

David Gower with fellow Sky broadcasters Johnny Nelson, Tamsin Greenway and Jamie Carragher at Sky Studios, Osterley Credit: Fiona Hanson

When the Ashes closes out the international summer at the Oval next week, the venue will be particularly poignant for Gower. He scored four of his 18 Test centuries here, including 157 in the final Test of the 1985 Ashes to steer his side to a 3-1 series victory, and it is the English ground on which he has his highest batting average.

Another innings he remembers fondly was an unbeaten 157 against India, where six hours at the crease helped save both the game and his Test career. It was also a moment, however, which reinforced Gower’s suspicion that he might be a bit different to those around him.

“I remember walking off the field that day, and it was a time when I was slightly at odds with the ethos of the team at the time, or the management of the team at the time, and Dilip Vengsarkar said, ‘Well played,’ and then he said, ‘You don’t really fit in here, do you?’

“And I said, ‘Well, mmm, okay I get your point.’ It was one of those things, where it’s also echoed in the title I picked for my autobiography, which is ‘An Endangered Species’,” continues Gower. “Which links in [my passion for] wildlife, but it also links in the way I –” Gower pauses. “ –sort of, am.

“And I was in that team in the early 80s, early 90s. So, [I was] a little bit, not apart in the sense of the way that I didn’t identify with the team, but just apart in the way that I was in an era that was also changing rapidly. So, I do understand the way things evolved.”

“I still wouldn’t go as far as an absolute outsider,” insists Gower. “But as a captain for instance, you have got to allow that people are different. I was not brilliant at that, but I at least understood that you needed to do that.” 

David Gower at home Credit: Andrew Crowley 

Gower similarly doesn’t consider himself an outsider to his current colleagues in the Sky commentary box, but suggests instead that it is “nice to have the variety of both the voices and the opinions”, offering “scope for the animated discussion when due.”

“It would be mortifyingly dull if everyone spent the whole day saying, ‘Yep, I agree entirely’,” says Gower, with an air of finality. This brings Gower back to reality because, despite the variety he believes he demonstrates, it is no longer what Sky are looking for. With his imminent free agency, therefore, what does he really think about the contribution of Sky Sports, as a subscription television provider, to the game?

“I suppose I have slightly more freedom to talk now than I might have done before,” considers Gower, carefully. “I’ve always been very open about this, that the wider the audience, in one sense, the better. But I will always say that there is a strong note of caution.

“There are two things in essence. One is if other people don’t want to broadcast [cricket], you are stuffed. So, if terrestrial television does not have time to do it justice, you are stuffed.”

“I mean, I have no axe to grind on this,” continues Gower, before offering the other cautionary tale. “But Sky is probably the best place for [cricket]. Because it has the time, and space, and the passion actually, the desire to make it look good.”

“The greatest concern is for Test cricket,” says Gower. “And I’ve tried to argue my case for that as well. Our audience for Test cricket, the demographic is well established and it likes what it sees.”

This, Gower suggests, will not change with someone younger and less experienced in charge of coverage. “You can change the look of a television screen, but as management will admit anyway, it is the action that people primarily want to see.”

“We used to have more, have great conversations sometimes, which people have time to look at and enjoy. But most of the time it is people wanting to watch the cricket on the screen.” And cricket, Gower reflects, ruefully, will still be there. Even if he is not.