Clayton Murzello: Why Goochie is an inspiration
On this very day in 1975, Graham Gooch bagged a pair on Test debut. Yet, he ended up as England's highest run-getter in five-day cricket
Forty-three years ago on this very day, Graham Gooch walked back despondently to the Edgbaston dressing room after bagging a pair on his Test debut during the 1975 Ashes.
The selectors gave him one more crack in the next Test at Lord's and that was it. He didn't figure anymore in new captain Tony Greig's 1975 plans. After his disastrous debut series, Gooch spent the next three years putting his head down and getting big scores for Essex for the selectors to grant him a recall as an opening batsman for the 1978 Lord's Test against Pakistan. A massive 8,863 runs and 17 years hence, he retired as his country’s highest run-getter in Tests with 8,900 runs. Gooch’s revival must rank as one of the most fascinating stories in English cricket.
Gooch’s first steps in Test cricket in 1975 were eventful and amusing. Australia’s Max Walker and Jeff Thomson engineered his pair on Test debut and then it was Dennis Lillee and Ashley Mallett who caused his doom in the next Test at Lord’s. In the build-up to his debut Test, there was no one there to take him under their wing. After the team meeting in Birmingham, where the talk was far away from being positive about tackling Ian Chappell’s Australians, Gooch, according to his autobiography, headed to the bar in the hope he could catch up with some of his teammates. There was not a soul.
Gooch turned an opening batsman during his first wilderness from Test cricket. Mike Denness, his first Test captain, moved from Kent to Essex, where Essex captain Keith Fletcher asked Gooch to open the batting with Denness. That was the turning point and facing the bowlers’ music first up made him a tighter and determined player. You fail more times than you succeed in cricket, so Gooch’s return to the Test side was not layered with centuries immediately. In fact, his first century in England Test colours was scored in his 22nd Test - against the West Indies at Lord's in 1980. Four months earlier, at Melbourne against Greg Chappell’s Australia, he ran himself out one short of a century. On Len Pascoe’s last ball before tea on the opening day, Gooch set off for a run but couldn't beat Kim Hughes' alacrity. Ian Chappell, who made a comeback into the Australian team that year, looked at Gooch and exclaimed, “What, don't you like scoring centuries or something?” Chappell's sarcasm lingered in Gooch’s mind and he used it to good effect.
While Gooch established himself as a key player, he chose to lead an England team on a rebel tour to South Africa. He was banned for the 1982, 1983 and 1984 seasons. One is compelled to imagine how many more Test runs Gooch would’ve had if not for the ban.
Indian fans will remember him for his 115 in the 1987 World Cup semi-final at Wankhede Stadium, where India's dreams of defending their 1983 World Cup crown were thrown in the nearby Arabian Sea. And who can forget his 333 against Mohammed Azharuddin's team at Lord’s in 1990.
Gooch’s triple century will always be a career highlight but it was not his finest innings. That came the following summer at Leeds where he attacked, defended and thwarted a top West Indies pace attack of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh for an unbeaten 154 out of England’s second innings total of 252 in the bowler-friendly conditions of Leeds. Gooch had scored hundreds before against arguably fiercer Caribbean attacks but this time England won - their first Test victory over the West Indies in England since 1969.
Doubtless, he prepared well for the West Indies and only those who do not fully comprehend the quality of his opposition and the conditions will place his seven-plus hours 154 at the bowel of the all-time great innings list.
Better the opposition, the hungrier he got and no one could convince him that success would arrive at one’s doorstep when expectancy outweighed preparation. He was no lightweight but he trained like an athlete, many a time with the West Ham United football team.
Gooch's cricketing characteristics ran parallel to what Test cricket is all about - tough, relentless and brutal.
Coaching was a natural progression for Gooch. His biggest contribution in this sphere is his role in shaping the career of Alastair Cook, who is now England’s leading run-getter with a tally of 12,145.
Gooch doesn’t coach high profile teams anymore after he was sacked as England’s batting coach in 2014. Ironically, his protege Cook had to inform him of his ouster. He now coaches kids in islands not very far away from home. By now he must be tired of answering questions about how he turned the corner after a disastrous start to his Test career. But I’m sure his reply will go along the lines of what he told me in 2007: “I’ve got the lowest and the highest and have been through the whole spectrum of batting. You’ve got to work hard and play straight.” Interestingly, the last two words of that prescription are not often associated with T20 cricket, a format that Gooch is no fan of. He recently expressed amazement over the fact that Twenty20 cricket's lustre has not disappeared.
Gooch has no qualms in admitting he is an out-and-out traditionalist and though there is truth in T20 cricket doing wonders for the overall interest in the game, Test cricket must not become less significant. Too much of this fast food version can never be good for cricket’s heart and soul.
There is a silver lining though. While Test cricket is devalued by T20 orgies and senseless two-match Test series, at times you get a five-Test series. I can’t wait for the next one to begin on August 1 - incidentally at Edgbaston where Gooch got his 1975 Test debut pair.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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