Alf Gover

ALFRED RICHARD GOVERdidn't accomplish his ambition last season of gaining a place in the team for Australia, but in taking 200 wickets he accomplished a feat no English fast-bowler had performed for 39 years.

In those far distant days of 1897, Tom Richardson -- even the younger generation scarcely need telling that he also wore the Surrey cap -- claimed 273 wickets in all matches while in 26 county fixtures his successes numbered 238. Although Gover, in 1936, with his 171 wickets in 27 county games fell short of Richardson's record, he placed himself in the forefront of modern fast bowlers. His steady improvement can be traced to genuine enthusiasm for the game.

Gover belongs to that small band of people whose birthday comes only once in four years; he was born at Epsom, Surrey, in 1908, on February 29. His father was a keen club cricketer who encouraged his son to play all games. As a boy Alfred Gover went to Merton C. of E. Secondary School and he was fortunate to play on the excellent pitches of the John Innes ground on which Jack Hobbs arranges his annual charity match.

One of Gover's schoolmasters was W.J. Roberts, a left-hander, who claims the distinction of being the only player to hit a century for the locals against Jack Hobbs' side. From an early age Gover was a fast bowler and Mr. Roberts gave him every encouragement. Being the school captain, young Gover, as he now admits, used to open the batting as well as the bowling, though it is only recently he has been able to keep up his end as a run-getter for Surrey.

Leaving school at 16 he entered the building trade as a structural engineer and at week-ends assisted West Wimbledon. A colleague at his business, who was an enthusiastic member of Essex C.C.C., introduced him to county cricket, and visiting Leyton in July 1926, Gover was given a trial at the nets. To his delight, he bowled J.W.H.T. Douglas several times and the famous Essex captain and C.P. McGahey were so impressed that Gover was persuaded to try his fortune with Essex.

He agreed and the following season travelled with the Essex team as twelfth man to the Oval. There a chance conversation with Herbert Strudwick, to whom he revealed that he was born in Surrey, led to Gover changing his county; Essex did not desire to lose him and made every effort to keep him, but Gover thought his prospects would be brighter with Surrey and in September 1927 he went to his native county.

Surrey lost little time in giving him a chance to prove his worth and he made his debut in June 1928 against Sussex at Horsham. Though showing promise Gover did not realise expectations until 1930 when he received his county cap; since then; he has been a regular member of the side and to date he claims 846 wickets in first-class matches.

For many years Gover experienced some trouble over his run. He had a habit of overstepping the crease and being no-balled, but by assiduous practice he has almost eradicated those faults. He says he owes much to the excellent advice he received from Razor Smith and Strudwick. By constant practice during the winter months at Strudwick's indoor school he improved his run and delivery. Gover also pays tribute to Sandy Tait, the Surrey masseur, due to whose careful attention he has not missed a match during the last seven years on account of injury.

Because of his somewhat cumbersome action Gover is often adversely criticised, but, considering he stands 6ft. 2½ inches, weighs 13 stone 10 lbs. and puts every ounce of energy into each delivery, it is not really surprising that a man of his build should appear awkward. The important fact is that at the vital instant of releasing the ball his action is quite correct with the left shoulder pointing down the pitch towards the opposing batsman. Photographs establish the accuracy of this statement beyond any shadow of doubt.

His proper body action enables him to produce that vicious break-back which brings him so many wickets and, in addition, he bowls the outswinger with deadly effect.

It was in 1933 that Gover made a big advance and the following year he was twice reserve for England against Australia, but prior to 1936 his appearances in representative cricket were limited to Gentlemen and Players matches at the Oval and to Festival games. Last summer he bowled in such devastating fashion that he was picked for the Test Trial and the Gentlemen and Players match at Lord's and thoroughly justified his choice.

Given his first chance in a Test Match -- against India at Manchester -- he had a heart-breaking experience, for on the first morning two catches were dropped off his bowling and within an hour the over-prepared pitch became less suited to a man of his pace.

At his home Gover treasures two mounted cricket balls presented to him in recognition of notable performances. One commemorates his feat of taking four wickets with four successive deliveries at Worcester in 1935 and the other his 200th wicket on the last day of the 1936 season at Scarborough.

© John Wisden & Co