Fitness, passion the key

Fitness, passion the key

Former England captain Graham Gooch on his career, contemporaries and the current scene

Fitness, passion the key

eagle-eyed:  Graham Gooch is now focused on guiding England’s new crop of players.  dh photo/ m s manjunath

The former England captain, now their batting consultant, scored 8900 runs from 118 Tests at 42.58 with 20 hundreds. Gooch spoke to Deccan Herald during his recent visit to Bangalore with an Essex squad.  Excerpts:

From a middle-order batsman, how did you become an opener?

I started as a middle-order batsman way back in 1975 and played a few Test matches for England. But that did not go well and I was left out for almost three years. Meanwhile I had a chance to open the innings for Essex and I grabbed the chance. It transformed me as a player, made me more responsible, improved my technique and ultimately opened the door again to the England team.

Late 70s and 80s were the era of great fast bowlers. How tough was it opening against them?

Oh yes! It was the era of great fast bowlers – the famous West Indian quartet started with Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft and later Malcolm Marshall joined them. Even their two next-in-line bowlers Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose were fantastic. Then we had Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev and all of them vastly different from each other, yes it was particularly tough against new ball at that time. Well, that is all about international cricket isn’t it? Putting your skills and challenging yourself against the best. I am happy that I had my moments.

The best fast bowler you faced…

The best in that era were Dennis Lillee and Malcolm Marshall, but if you ask me to pick one, I will go for Malcolm because no other bowler so consistently troubled me. He gave me problems throughout my career. (Laughs) Wasn’t he a terrific bowler? He was a complete fast bowler – incredible stamina, great speed, great skills with the ball and he could move the cherry either ways with ease. And also, he took wickets at every corner of the cricketing world. The difference between him and others was that he bowled a slightly fuller length, and his speed and skiddy action made it tough to judge him. Yes, he is my all-time best.

There were some great opening pairs in the 80s like Haynes-Greenidge and Boon-Marsh. Do you think the busy nature of contemporary cricket is thwarting the formation of such long-standing opening pairs?

I don’t think so. You have Sehwag and Gambhir, particularly Sehwag has been a consistently exciting player in the last 3-4 years when he has scored two triple hundreds and other big knocks. Then we had Hayden-Langer till recently who have been very successful. I have great hope on the English pair of Andrew Strauss-Alistair Cook who has it in them to make a fine combination.

The best aspect of opening the innings is that it allows you the freedom to set the match up for your team and bat in your natural style more than anywhere else, and I think that feature has been the same in my era and the present one.

You scored a lot of runs past 35, a time when many others began to think about a post-retirement life. How did you manage it?

There was a down-time in my career, perhaps from ’87 onwards when I did not score that many runs. But fortunately the England captaincy came my way in 1989. That really gave me a new phase in my career, so the added responsibility made me learn to control my instincts, new ways to score runs and importantly my batting touched a new level. It’s all about remaining fit and keeping your enthusiasm going. We have a great example in Sachin Tendulkar. He has organised his batting well and has already 90 international hundreds, and he can score lot more as I feel he can go on for another three-four years easily.

But captaincy comes with a lot of baggage — press conferences, team meetings and meetings with selectors… so how did you manage to stay focused on your game?

Ah yes…that’s a good point you made. Perhaps, the nicest and easiest part of captaincy is actually when you walk on to the field, yes the hardest, as you said, is the off-field commitments – press briefings, meeting with team and selectors. Whatever be your role in the team – batsman or bowler – the primary duty is to perform. You are not there only to captain, but to contribute to team’s success. The important thing is to stay focused on your primary duty, and compartmentalise between that and captaincy.

Talking about Tendulkar, when you saw him for the first time in 1990, was there any indication that he would one day beome a batting star?

It was pretty obvious that the lad was a special one. I saw him first at Lord’s but witnessed the blooming of a talent at Old Trafford where he scored his maiden Test hundred. He had so much time for his strokes, and it was like he knew what the bowler was going to bowl, kind of thinking from the bowlers’ mind.

On your present duty as the batting coach of England, was it a challenge to work with Kevin Pietersen, pivotal to England’s schemes but not among runs of late?

Yeah, that’s one of the aspects why they have asked me to join the team as batting coach, so that I can watch Kevin a bit. He is a box office player and a supreme talent. He’s got a brilliant average, nearly 50 in Test cricket, and yes he’s been going through bit of a lean patch. He had a very serious injury –Achilles injury – last year against Australia. He has just returned and is trying to find his touch. I have no doubt that Kevin is going to score runs at the earliest, only a little more hard work is needed, and I am sure year 2010 will be Kevin’s.

Likewise, I believe Cook too is only going to improve. You have to remeber that he is only 25 and I think the best phase of a batsman is between 25 and 35. He has already played more than 50 Tests and scored 10 Test hundreds, I think I scored my first Test hundred when I was 25. So, I think Cook is going to score a lot of runs for England in future.

Do you think England has it in them to challenge India, Australia and South Africa for the top spot?

Well, they have a solid team. But England need to be a lot more consistent for that and it has always been a problem with our cricket. The challenge in front of Strauss and Andy Flower is to add consistency to the team’s performance.

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