Cricket / Aixth Test: Gooch's record of excellence: Glenn Moore at The Oval

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England 380 and 210-5; Australia 303

THE final Test is shaping to be a bitter-sweet one for Graham Gooch. While he will always remember it for becoming England's highest run-scorer, he may also recall it as marking the final eclipse of his captaincy. Alternatively it could be the final blow of a depressing year in which collective failure has dimmed personal success.

Gooch may now be Corporal Courageous rather than Captain Marvel but he remains the pillar of England's batting and if his successor is to gain the one triumph that always eluded him Gooch will be the man to thank.

He went into this Test requiring 74 to break David Gower's Test run record and saying, 'I'm not looking for 70-odd, I'm looking for a hundred.'

In the end he had to settle for 79 but, with 56 in the first innings, he is again England's top-scorer and yesterday batted beautifully from his first ball.

That was struck for four. It took 30 minutes to add 14 more and reach 8,232 in Test cricket. 'I was a bit nervous getting close,' he later said in a rare admission of his desire. 'It was a relief to get past the record of a great player like David Gower. There is satisfaction in knowing I have performed well over a long period. It is out of the way now.'

Not yet settled though is his immediate future. As the end of the season has approached Gooch's insistence that he will not be going to the Caribbean has weakened from 'no chance' to 'almost certainly not' to yesterday's 'I don't think it would be a good idea.'

'It is very tempting but I think it would be a mistake,' he added. 'People say 'You should go' and I am playing well. It's tempting but I know when I get into the routine of touring I won't enjoy it.'

So maybe not, but he did say he might be prepared to answer an emergency call.

Geoff Boycott, now third in England's run list, said it would be a mistake if Gooch went as 'his mind is not set on it.' Boycott added - without a hint of irony - 'you don't think about the record it just sneaks up on you.'

Boycott lost the record to Gower 13 months ago and Gooch's accession restores the honour to the school of batting that represents high talent, diligently applied, rather than genius, mercurially asserted.

His biggest regret as captain was never leading England to victory in an Ashes Test. Two matches into the job Michael Atherton is in the best position to do so since Mike Gatting's team beat them in 1986/87. However, England are by no means certain of doing so and much will depend on how well Alec Stewart bats this morning and whether Devon Malcolm can then reproduce the fire of Friday.

Yesterday's play went up and down like the Mexican wave that - despite Surrey's hardline security - finally surfaced in the last hour. England were frustratingly delayed by the adhesive Ian Healy in the morning, then, with Gooch dominant, commanded the afternoon only to suffer a familiar collapse to leave the match finely balanced. By the close, they had reached 210 for 5 wickets, an overall lead of 287.

England began in the unusual position of being able to dictate a game. 'What,' might Atherton have enquired of Gooch, 'am I supposed to do now?' 'Blowed if I can remember. Nip up to the commentary box and ask Trueman.'

In the event the approach was admirably positive, but after Angus Fraser dismissed Shane Warne in the third over it needed the new ball and another hour to get rid of Tim May, who even had the temerity to hit his first boundary of the tour. He finally fell driving at Fraser, giving him five wickets and leaving Ian Healy, who had eked 107 runs from the last two wickets, as the top scorer. That earned Dennis Lillee a handy bonus for backing him to do so at 33-1.

The lead was some way short of the 150 anticipated late on Friday and the mood was thus as much fearful as jubilant but hope was quickly restored when Gooch hammered Hughes' first ball - a half-volley - through mid-off.

Hughes' sixth - a tennis-ball bouncer - flew over Healy's head for four byes and Reiffel then opened with a wide. With both batsmen late cutting boundaries England were 29 for none off three overs, a figure that even today's slogging matches will struggle to match.

A minute before lunch Gooch, having fiercely cut Hughes for four in the previous over, stroked Reiffel through mid-off to pass Gower and receive the first of three standing ovations. He quietly acknowledged it with a wave of his bat while Allan Border came from mid-wicket to shake his hand, and perhaps mention he was now only 2,446 runs ahead.

Gooch again found the ideal partner in Atherton who, as if enhanced by the responsibility of captaincy, kept pace with him. The pair were nine past their average of 68 for opening stands together when Atherton cut at a Reiffel long-hop and was caught at point. For a player of such sound defensive technique he gets himself out to this shot surprisingly regularly and, since there will be plenty of short balls flying around in his next few innings, he needs to either get it right or cut it out.

Border mysteriously repeated his first innings generosity allowing Hick to establish himself before facing Hughes (is it being paranoid to suspect a plot?) and when he belatedly appeared Hick - who had lifted May for six - confidently drove him.

It was such a handsome shot Hughes felt compelled to offer Hick his compliments, attracting a quiet word from umpire Mervyn Kitchen for doing so. Whether Hick was disturbed is hard to say but, next over, he lazily pulled May to wide mid-wicket, a soft dismissal straight out of Mark Waugh's locker.

The breakthrough made, Hughes barged his way in, transformed from blustering bully to menacing threat. Maynard was struck on the helmet then the shoulder before, having changed from evasive to aggressive defence, was caught pulling at backward square leg. South Africa and the A team, not the Caribbean, beckon for him.

Hussain may yet return to the West Indies but he received a brute of a first ball that struck both his and his bat's shoulder before coming to rest at wide second slip. Stewart survived a hat-trick ball delayed by a drinks break and a Reiffel over but at the other end Gooch fell. He had survived a possible chance off May at 47 and a big appeal by Warne on 51 - both for catches at the wicket - but edged pushing forward to Warne and finally rewarded Healy. Three wickets in six runs, four in 23 and Australia were back in the match. They are not a team you can relax against.

----------------------------------------------------------------- SCOREBOARD FROM THE OVAL ----------------------------------------------------------------- SIXTH CORNHILL TEST (Third day; England won toss) ENGLAND - First Innings 380 (G A Hick 80, A J Stewart 76, G A Gooch 56, M A Atherton 50) AUSTRALIA - First Innings (Overnight 239 for 8) I A Healy not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83 (189 min, 117 balls, 6 fours) S K Warne c Stewart b Fraser. . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 (59 min, 45 balls, 1 four) T B A May c Stewart b Fraser. . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 (67 min, 50 balls, 1 four) Extras (b5 lb6 w2 nb4). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 Total (411 min, 94.4 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . .303 Fall (cont): 9-248 (Warne). Bowling: Malcolm 26-5-86-3 (nb2, w1) (11-2-37-2, 7-2-24-1, 2-0-9-0, 6-1-16-0); Watkin 28-4-87-2 (w1) (7-1-17-0, 6-1-23-0, 6-2-9-2, 4-0-17-0, 5-0-21-0); Fraser 26.4- 4-87-5 (nb3) (7-1-16-1, 4-0-22-0, 9-2-25-2, 4-1-16-1, 2.4-0-8-1); Such 14-4-32-0 (11-4- 23-0 3-0-9-0). Progress: 250: 345 min, 80 overs. New ball: 271-9, 85 overs. 300: 409 min, 94 overs. Innings closed: 12.19pm. Healy 50: 128 min, 83 balls, 3 fours. ENGLAND - Second Innings G A Gooch c Healy b Warne . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79 (226 min, 183 balls, 13 fours) *M A Atherton c Warne b Reiffel . . . . . . . . . . . .42 (81 min, 62 balls, 8 fours) G A Hick c Boon b May . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36 (97 min, 74 balls, 5 fours, 1 six) M P Maynard c Reiffel b Hughes . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 (27 min, 21 balls, 1 four) N Hussain c M Waugh b Hughes . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 (1 min, 1 ball) A J Stewart not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 (61 min, 38 balls, 2 fours) M R Ramprakash not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 (46 min, 43 balls, 1 four) Extras (b5 lb10 w1 nb2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18 Total (for 5, 274 min, 70 overs)210 Fall: 1-77 (Atherton), 2-157 (Hick), 3-180 (Maynard), 4-180 (Hussain), 5-186 (Gooch). Bowling: Hughes 20-6-77-2 (nb2) (9-2-41- 0, 2-1-9-0, 9-3-27-2); Reiffel 13-4-36-1 (w1) (one spell); Warne 21-7-41-1 (14-5-33-0, 4-1-3-1, 3-1-5-0), May 16-3-41-1 (12-2-32-1, 4-1-9-0). Progress: 50: 33 min, 7.5 overs. Lunch: 50-0 (Gooch 23, Atherton 21) in 8 overs. 100: 118 min, 29.2 overs. Tea: 127-1 (Gooch 58, Hick 19) in 40 overs. 150: 171 min, 45.4 overs. 200: 264 min, 66.4 overs. Gooch 50: 135 min, 106 balls, 9 fours. Umpires: B J Meyer and M J Kitchen.

----------------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND'S LEADING TEST RUN-SCORERS ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Tests Runs Av G A Gooch. . . . . . . . . . . 107 8293 44.35 D I Gower. . . . . . . . . . . 117 8231 44.25 G Boycott. . . . . . . . . . . 108 8114 47.72 M C Cowdrey. . . . . . . . . . 114 7624 44.06 W R Hammond. . . . . . . . . . 85 7249 58.45 L Hutton . . . . . . . . . . . 79 6971 56.67 K F Barrington . . . . . . . . 82 6806 58.67 D C S Compton. . . . . . . . . 78 5807 50.06 J B Hobbs. . . . . . . . . . . 61 5410 56.94 I T Botham . . . . . . . . . . 102 5200 33.54 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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