There are no shortage of plaudits for the England team now that they have gone two-up in the Ashes series. After the players, the support staff deserve a dollop of credit as well. Starting with team director Andy Flower and certainly not ending with batting coach Graham Gooch.
Gooch turns 60 today. It is a far happier birthday than what he witnessed 18 years ago when he was still hurting from his team’s demolition in the 1994-95 Ashes series. Yes, Gooch played till he was 42.
Gone is the bushy moustache, but his work ethic is still the same, according to people who know him well. And England have undoubtedly benefited from his expertise, probably no one more than skipper and fellow Essex man Alastair Cook, whom Gooch has been mentoring for a while now.
According to an English journalist, “Cook always quotes Goochie telling him never to be satisfied - you’ve never scored enough, go on to ‘daddy
On the last tour to India, Gooch had his batsmen bat on a rubber mat which caused the ball to turn sharply. Wonder whether that helped in great measure, but England sure won their first Test series in Indian in 28 years.
He told The Guardian: “In practice, I try to highlight the basics – play with the spin, do not commit yourself early, learn that there are periods of time where you just have to dig in and wait. The smart ones take these messages on board.
“It is not easy to develop our techniques in England where bland pitches and conditions in general mean that the ball does not spin. You need it to turn to learn, which is why I have the mat.”
Gooch gave commitment a mighty good name as a player and his emphasis on training hard attracted some displeasure from his team members and the pens of his critics.
If it was not for commitment, how does one explain Gooch’s story of starting his Test career against Ian Chappell’s Australians in 1975 with a pair at Edgbaston, returning to the team in 1978, banned for three years after leading a rebel English team in South Africa, coming back in 1985 and ending his England career as his country’s highest run-getter with 100 short of 9000 Test runs?
What also played a role in Gooch’s success was the move to open the innings — made by his county captain Keith Fletcher in the summer of 1978. He told author Richard Sydenham in the book, In the Line of Fire: “It (opening) had a profound influence on my game.
It made me tighten up my game and concentrate a lot harder, which was one of my weaker points. I always had the ability to strike the ball, but the concentration and application wasn’t there so opening the batting improved that no end.”
Gooch played many a fine Test innings, but is known best for his hundred on a wet deck at Headingley, Leeds against a West Indies attack comprising Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh in 1991.
He carried his bat for 154 out of 252 before England bowled out the Caribbeans for 162 to win their first Test against West Indies at home since 1969.
Understandably, the English Press broke into verse. Gooch’s biographer — the late Frank Keating — quoted celebrated writer John Woodcock’s report (in Gooch - My Autobiography): “Since the Second World War, no innings by an England captain has surpassed Gooch’s. It stands out, not for artistic merit, but for skill and courage against a very formidable attack in awkward conditions at a crucial time.”
Keating also quoted a letter writer’s (Malcolm Tait from Berkshire) note to The Guardian: “To perform well is great, to perform well when expected to is greatness.”
To Indian cricket followers, Gooch’s 333 against Mohammed Azharuddin’s team at Lord’s in 1990 will be most memorable. Kiran More will never forget it because he dropped a sitter off Sanjeev Sharma when Gooch was 36. India didn’t lose sight of Gooch at the crease for the next nine and a half hours.
Suckers for trivia would be keen to note that it was the first Test triple hundred scored by a batsman who wore a helmet. At Trent Bridge in 2007, this writer asked Gooch about his 333. He preferred to dwell on what a great Test that was for a multiple of reasons.
“It was a great day for me and for English cricket. It was a fantastic game of cricket — not only for me but also for Robin Smith and Alan Lamb, who got hundreds too. Ravi Shastri opened the batting for India and scored a century and Mohammed Azharuddin’s 100 off 88 balls was quite brilliant too.
“It was a great game of cricket especially with Kapil Dev hitting Eddie Hemmings for four sixes to save the follow on and then Sachin Tendulkar taking that fantastic catch in front of the sight screen to dismiss Lamb.
I was lucky to finish off the match by running out Sanjeev Sharma. It was very unusual for me to run anybody out. It was a great Test all those years ago which I would cherish for the rest of my life.”
Gooch will be seen watching cricket again with his England wards on August 1 during the Manchester Test. And if he has to talk to his young batters, it could go along these lines: “You got to believe in yourself, work hard, and play straight.
Above all, you have to enjoy your preparation. If you do that and work hard, hopefully it will work for you on the field.” He was as serious as they come, but he could be urged to relate a funny story.
His autobiography has this gem that relates to the morning of his Test debut at Edgbaston in 1975: “At breakfast in the hotel dining-room, at least Sir Len Hutton stopped to have a word with me. He seemed a kindly man, but a dry one.
‘Good luck,’ he said. ‘Er, tell me, young man, have you ever played against the Australians before?’ I thought he was making fun of me. ‘Yes, sir,’ I said. ‘You’re one of the selectors who picked me after I scored 75 against them for MCC at Lord’s last week.’ ”