Longevity was the keyword when it comes to Alf Gover, who died at the age of 93. Thus wrote Ralph Dellor on the website Cricinfo. Born in 1908 on February 29 near Epsom in Surrey, he was one of the oldest Test cricketers. He worked for most of his life and had a long and distinguished career with Surrey and only a short Test career.
But his four matches were spread over a period of ten years, interrupted by the Second World War. Alf Gover is one of the world’s oldest surviving Test cricketers when RES Wyatt, who was born only a few miles away from him in Surrey, died in April 1995.
Alf Gover’s first-class career has lasted all of 20 years. He made his debut in 1928 and in the subsequent 362 matches. However, this tall man for the time (6 foot 2-1/2 inches) with an exciting action would charge in, often on totally indifferent Oval pitches. These conditions did not stop him from taking 1,555 wickets during his career at a cost of only 23.63 apiece. Moreover, there were eight occasions he took 100 wickets in a season.
In 1936, Gover became the first fast bowler since Tom Richardson in 1897 to take 200 wickets in a season. Hence, he repeated the achievement the following year. However, his performance in 1936 failed to gain his selection for the tour to Australia the following winter, even though he had made his Test debut that summer.
He went wicketless at Old Trafford against India, despite the fact that two catches were dropped in the slips off his bowling in the first session of play. He did, however, strike seven times the following summer in his two Tests against New Zealand at Lord’s and The Oval.
With another 200 wickets to his credit that summer, he did make the touring party to India in 1937-38. It was on that tour, at Indore, that Alf Gover became the focus of one of the classical humorous stories in which cricket delights. Dysentery was rife in the area and the tourists were not immune.
As he started his characteristic run-up to the wicket at the start of an over, he continued past the umpire, through the crease, and accelerated past a somewhat mystified batsman waiting to take strike, through the slip cordon that turned as one to see the bowler disappear into the pavilion in frantic search for a lavatory.
Unluckily, in his predicament, he had forgotten to leave the ball on the field of play and fine leg was dispatched to retrieve it. It is reported that fine leg then emerged from the pavilion clutching his prize, signifying that it would be judicious to secure the services of a substitute fielder without delay. Although Alf Gover recovered from that uneasiness, his knee let him down and he appeared in none of the Tests on that tour.
After the war, however, he returned to England kit in 1946 at the Oval for what turned out to be his final Test. He continued to play effectively for Surrey until the age of 40 when he retired from first-class cricket. He moved into journalism and, more significantly, into coaching. In unspectacular surroundings at the back of a garage in Wandsworth in south London, he ran an indoor cricket school at a time when such establishments were rare.
He was still coaching in whites well into his seventies. He said at once, as a promising fast bowler in club cricket, I was sent there to refine my technique. I remember a kind, respected figure in an England sweater, and ramrod straight in stature.
He still remembers the tatty net area and the overpowering smell of rubber from the matting on the floor and behind the stumps. Maybe he thought a lost cause and decided not to waste his precious knowledge on a hopeless case.
He doubts that and suspects that the fault was all mines. Many more deserving cases benefited from his tutelage, and a veritable Who’s Who of world cricket passed through those unprepossessing doors to! Emerge as better cricketers. And to show that it was not only bowlers he could improve, but both Viv Richards and Andy Roberts were also sent to Wandsworth on their arrival in England as budding overseas professionals.
It was where the great Surrey side! Of the fifties learned their cricket, including Tony Lock, the left-arm spinner who was thought to have developed his unlawful action by trying to keep the ball below the top netting in the Gover indoor school cricket. It was not until 1998 that Gover received recognition for his services to cricket in the form of an MBE.
No doubt that great Surrey supporter and former Prime Minister, John Major, felt that the time was then right for someone as well-known for his longevity as Alf Gover to be rewarded for a lifetime of contributions to the game.
‘Dad’ Weir was also the oldest survivor Aucklander Lindsay ‘Dad Weir became the oldest surviving Test cricketer in the world following the death in England, of fast bowler Alf Gover. Gordon Lindsay “Dad” Weir, who was the world’s oldest surviving Test cricketer at 95 years and 151 days, died in Auckland in 2003.
Dad Weir, a two-time tourist to England with the New Zealand teams of 1931 and 1937 was born on June 2, 1908, making him 93 years old. Weir was twice dismissed by Gover during the 1937 tour. Once against Gover’s Surrey county side and once in the third Test, the only Test Weir played on that tour. Dad Weir, missed by one Test by playing in New Zealand’s first official Test match against the 1929-30 MCC side on its tour of New Zealand.
He was called into the second Test and scored 3 and 21 in the drawn match. He won his selection after making an outstanding start to his first-class career which he began as a 19-year-old. New Zealand’s players only had three first-class matches a season if there was no touring team and in his second season he scored the first of 10 first-class centuries, 106 not out, against Otago.
It was his second century, 105 against Canterbury, in the 1929-30 seasons that were directly responsible for his Test selection. In the following summer, he made up for a first-innings duck and scored centuries against Canterbury and Wellington to assure himself of inclusion in the 1931 side to England under the captaincy of Tom Lowry.
Weir completed his 1,000 runs on tour, but overall his average of 25.87 was lower than he might have expected and was the result of not being able to score as freely as he liked to in the foreign conditions. He played all three Tests but only managed 96 runs at 24.00. However, he prospered when returning home.
His 74 not out against South Africa on its 1931-32 tour of New Zealand was his highest score in a career that saw him score 416 runs at 29.71. The highest score of his first-class career was 191 scored against Auckland in 1935-36. A useful medium-pace bowler he took seven Test wickets with his best being 3-38 against England in the first Test at Lord’s when he opened the bowling with lan Cromb.
On the 1937 tour of England, he scored 893 runs at 26.26. By the end of his first-class career in 1946-47, Gover had scored 5,022 runs at 32.19 and had 107 wickets at 37.35. Alf Gover has been a regular visitor to Eden Park for Test matches ever since. ‘He bowls the out-swinger with deadly effect Alf Gover, who has died at the age of 93, was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year in 1937.
Here’s how the Almanack paid tribute to him that year.
Alfred Richard Gover, of Surrey, did not realize 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 at the forefront of modern fast bowlers. His steady improvement can be traced to a genuine enthusiasm for the game. Alf Gover belongs to that small band of people whose birthday comes only once in four years; he was born in Epsom Surrey, in 1908, on February 29.
His father was a keen club cricketer who encouraged his son to play all the 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 WJ Roberts, a left-hander, who claims the distinction of being the only player to hit a century for the locals against Jack Hobbs’s side.
From an early age, Gover was a fast bowler and Mr. Roberts gave him every encouragement. Being school captain, young Gover, as he now confesses, used to open the batting as well as the bowling. Although it is only recently he has been able to keep up his end as a run-getter for Surrey. Alf Gover left the school at the age of just 16, and when he entered the building trade as a structural engineer and at weekends assisted West Wimbledon.
A colleague at his business, who was an enthusiastic member of Essex CCC, 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 WHT Douglas several times and the famous Essex captain and CP McGahey were so impressed that he was convinced to try his fortune with Essex. Gover agreed and the following season traveled with the Essex team as a 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 great promise Gover did not realize expectations until 1930 when he received his county can since then. Alf Gover 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. Alf Gover 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 regular practice during the winter months at Strudwick’s indoor school, he improved his run and delivery.
Alf 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, he was often adversely criticized. But, considering he stands 6ft 2-1/2 ins, 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 toward the opposing batsman. Photographs establish the accuracy of this statement beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Alf Gover proper body action enables him to generate that nasty break-back that brings him so many wickets. Also further, he bowls the out-swinger with deadly effect. It was in 1933 that he made a big advance and the following year Gover was twice reserved for England against Australia. However, prior to 1936, his appearances in representative cricket were partial to Gentlemen’s and Players’ matches at The Oval and to Festival games.
When the last summer he bowled in a 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 bowler of his pace.
At his home, Alf 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. – This article first appeared in the 1937 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.