W hen I arrived at Marlborough House School in Kent, aged 8, I’d only really ever played cricket in my back garden. However, Derek Whittome, who coached the First XI cricket team, saw a talent in me and, thanks to him, I progressed very quickly.
I’d been in the UK about a year and a half as I’d spent my early childhood in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa. At that age, you adapt ever so quickly, although you do notice things like a drop in temperature. By the time I got to Marlborough House, the only thing I had to worry about was boarding and being away from home. This dissipated very quickly, after just a few days.
Derek was a housemaster, but I can’t recall for the life of me what subject he taught. He was a benign but firm controller. Anyone who is coaching any sport – especially cricket – with children of that age should be able to identify where to take a firm grip and where you need to let things run. When it’s talent you need to guide it rather than restrain it. Let it flow, let it develop and help it along. He was very good at doing that.
Sometimes the danger is to overcoach – to follow the book too rigidly so technicalities become too important. Derek didn’t do that.
I had a natural talent that he worked with and nurtured. Had he coached me in tennis, would I have then become a tennis player? Probably not. While I was able to hit a cricket ball, kick a football and hit a tennis ball, I would still have been better at cricket. When you’re a child, you haven’t made the leap ahead but you’re starting to get clues. My cricket was always a little bit ahead and when I left Marlborough House it surged ahead. By the time I had completed the first year at King’s [The King’s School, Canterbury], I was in the First XI for the last game of the season.
Outside of cricket, I was absolutely angelic – there was never a problem at that age. I was academic enough to enjoy the work, do the work and pass the exams and sporty enough to make the most of all the opportunities: the cricket, the football, rugby and tennis.
Marlborough House was a sympathetic, caring environment – a typical small prep school of that era. We had playing fields and woods and open spaces in which to be active. I had a very successful, enjoyable time there. I liked the atmosphere and the teachers and I just got on with what I was told to get on with, be it work or sport.
Around 10 or 15 years later, I went back. Whereas when I was there they had a big wooden shed that counted as a bit of a gym and an indoor sports centre, some years later they built a new one and I went there to open it. Derek was still teaching there and I caught up with him. I can’t recall if I told him he’d had a great influence on me, although I’m happy to acknowledge it now.
Those early years were important as they helped with my development. When I left, I was earmarked as a good cricket player so it set me up nicely. That progression would not have been possible without the nurture from Derek Whittome and Marlborough House.
David Gower was talking to Kate Bohdanowicz. He is patron of CHICKS, a charity providing free respite breaks for disadvantaged children from across the UK. If you work with a child who could benefit from a confidence-boosting break away, please visit www.chicks.org.uk to find out more
Born 1 April 1957, Tunbridge Wells. His mother flew back for the birth from their home in Tanzania.
Education International School, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Marlborough House School, Cranbrook, Kent; The King’s School, Canterbury, Kent
Career Cricketer for Leicestershire and Hampshire and former England cricket captain; broadcaster and Sky Sports presenter