Kevin Pietersen provided yet another example of current players being touchy about what former players have to say. In this case, his former England batting coach, Graham Gooch.
In the light of talk that Pietersen may make an England comeback, Gooch was quoted as saying on BBC Radio 5: “The best thing England can do is to win well in the West Indies and all these comments might go away.”
In other words, if England’s batters fire in the Caribbean, Pietersen’s comeback dreams would be reduced to dust. Pietersen then takes to Twitter: “Graham Gooch you captained a rebel tour of SA, got banned and then returned to the England team. I don’t think I’ve done anything as bad!”
Former cricketer Graham Gooch (r) chats with batsman Kevin Pietersen during the Ashes in 2013. File pic/Getty Images
Pietersen’s supporters will equate Gooch with a traitor for going to South Africa in 1982 (when Pietersen was two years old by the way) while those who backed Gooch will reckon that he didn’t, like Pietersen, speak ill about his teammates to his opposition and he just went to South Africa to earn a better living and pay check far better than England’s match by match payments in those days.
Apart from putting Pietersen’s possible return in perspective and also saying that the maverick cricketer would be part of the Caribbean Premier League if he doesn’t get picked for England, Gooch’s utterances bear testimony to the fact that teams nowadays can’t wait to play the West Indies, a far cry from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The fear with which teams toured that part of the world then can never be truly understood.
Geoff Boycott in the Special Features section of Fire in Babylon, the film on West Indies cricket, speaks of batsmen smoking away and littering the dressing floor with half-smoked cigarettes before going in to bat. “They just kept puffing because they don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s frightening, absolutely frightening… it builds up and builds up,” says Boycott.
Gooch, whose feats Pietersen may not want to hear about now, came up with some heroic efforts against the West Indies in their prime. One such knock was the 116 out of England’s second innings total of 224 in the Barbados Test of 1981 against an attack comprising Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. Three days before, England’s assistant manager Ken Barrington had died of a heart attack and Gooch dedicated his century to Barrington, a fine batsman in his time and a great giver of batting gems. “ ‘Remember,’ he (Barrington) told me, ‘it is criminal to throw away a chance of a big score when the opportunity is there. One big score may easily be followed by a run of little ones and you’ll be glad of that big score to fall back on,’ ” Gooch writes in his autobiography published by Collins Willow. The Times gushed, “In profound sorrow, Gooch discovered heroism.” The Daily Telegraph cricket correspondent wrote, “In the harrowing circumstances of a death in the family, Gooch’s innings was one of true valiant courage.”
West Indies still went on to win that Test by a massive margin and Gooch’s best against them was still to come. In June 1991, in typical Headingley overcast conditions — which bowlers would kill, to bowl in — Gooch scored two thirds of his side’s second innings total of 252. His unbeaten 154 was rated one of the finest Test innings in history. The attack: Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Patrick Patterson. “Unyielding concentration carried him through three interruptions for rain on the fourth day, and mental toughness enabled him to survive a series of disasters at the other end,” wrote John Callaghan in the 1992 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Gooch also joined the departed Kenny Barrington, Boycott and Ian Botham as the only batsmen to score hundreds at each of England’s Test grounds. Gooch wrote: “I did come in to lunch thinking fondly of Kenny, of much he had done for me and wondering whether he’d be looking down on Headingley from somewhere with that old beaky-nosed, proud-as-Punch grin of his, as well as offering a friendly wisecrack about how I was batting well for my age (nearing 38).” England achieved a rare Test win over the West Indies.
Pietersen will not look up to Gooch like Gooch did to Barrington, but both these greats have something in common and that is, cricketing exile. Gooch’s international cricket wilderness lasted three years. Pietersen’s is anybody’s guess. Come to think of it, English cricket won’t be harmed if they break bread and chat with each other. For despite Gooch’s optimism about his country’s batsmen setting the Caribbean sea on fire, Pietersen is still needed for his dominating batting. The Aussies are coming this English summer, remember!
Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor