CRICKET: England stumble over Gooch's exit line

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England 353 and 220-6 Australia 419

Graham Gooch's confirmation over the weekend that he has only one more Test match left to play will take him ahead of David Gower as England's most capped player, although in terms of England's current international standing, Gooch is definitely getting out at the bottom.

"Not a lot of petrol left in the tank" has been Gooch's perennial lament for about the last half dozen of his 41 years, and now the engine is spluttering to a halt. As for England, they continue to clunk and rattle down international cricket's crawler lane, apparently running on a mixture of paraffin and lighter fuel.

Once again in this match they managed to get themselves into a couple of half-decent positions, but eight years of having their bottoms spanked by Australia have apparently drained them of any real self-belief. Their batting has been about as productive as one can reasonably expect with someone like Steve Rhodes coming in at No 6, but is scarcely the cavalry charge of a side 2-0 down with two to play.

The worst aspect of the weekend was the bowling during Saturday's final three hours, when England went from a team apparently in sight of a useful first- innings lead, to a side eventually grateful to bat again with a deficit of nothing more than 66.

The fact that Saturday's post-tea session was two and a half hours was also an indication of a side that, for all their pre-match oratory, are not expecting to win. England have spent this entire series bowling their overs slowly enough to guarantee a period of overtime, which is not so much an accident as a deliberate ploy to frustrate the opposition batsmen.

This makes even less sense when the final session requires you to bowl 36 overs, and when England's weary attack dished up non-stop dross to Australia's seventh wicket pair, Greg Blewett and Ian Healy turned around a potential Australian crisis with an unbroken stand of 162.

England's fragile cameraderie was also well illustrated on Saturday after Philip Tufnell clattered into an advertising board, and sat for some time in rueful self-inspection of an apparently damaged foot. However, far from expressing their collective concern, the only team-mate to go near Tufnell was Chris Lewis. His captain, Michael Atherton, advanced not one centimetre from his arms-folded position at slip. Atherton is substantially less of an admirer of Tufnell's character than his bowling, and rarely has he made it more plain.

England's fightback yesterday morning, though, was an indication that Australia, who were in Pakistan for two months before this series began, are just as weary as they are. They lost their last five wickets in 50 minutes for 25 more runs, to a series ofstrokes that would have been pretty gruesome had they been wearing their World Series pyjamas.

Devon Malcolm has not had much luck in this series, but he made up for it yesterday by snaring two of his three wickets with legside long hops flicked to the wicketkeeper, and when Blewett begun charging down the pitch to Angus Fraser, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that England had slipped something into his cornflakes.

However, when Blewett was joined by Australia's No 10, Peter McIntyre, who can scarcely bat at all, it transpired that Blewett's manic quest for six more runs (to become only the 16th Australian to make a century on his Test debut) had more than a littleto do with the fact that his team's No 11 was not even on the ground.

Having been forced home from Australia's last tour of England with a twisted bowel, Australia were sufficiently worried about Craig McDermott's stomach upset yesterday morning to dispatch him to hospital for an X-ray. McDermott was both lucky enough not to find himself behind a long queue of England players in the X-ray department, and to get the all clear, but by the time he got back to the ground, McIntyre was just about to be bowled by Malcolm.

Blewett, in fact, was half-way off the field with 98 not out after McIntyre was out, but McDermott just managed to clamber into his gear quickly enough to avoid being timed out, and remained just long enough for Blewett to scramble to three figures.

England lost Atherton and Mike Gatting before wiping out their deficit of 66 (both to Mark Waugh, of all people) with Gatting suffering the fate that befell him on his last Test appearance in Adelaide eight years ago, a century in the first innings and nought in the second. It was a horrible stroke, bowled through the gate by a straight ball, and Gatting would be doing himself a favour if he followed Gooch's example and called it a day in Perth.

Word of Gooch's decision had clearly got around the ground, as he received a standing ovation after nicking a wideish ball from McDermott. "I like to set my standards high," he said. "And if I don't get hundreds I don't feel I'm doing my job. Twenties, thirties and forties aren't really good enough."

A bit more of this kind of attitude needs to rub off on Graham Thorpe before too long. Thorpe has made significant strides on this tour, but after playing beautifully for 83 yesterday, he gave it away by slicing a wide on from McDermott straight to square cover.

Warne bowled without much rhythm yesterday, McIntyre's variation is not so much between flipper and wrong 'un as long hop and half volley, and if Blewett is an all-rounder, so too is Malcolm. So, despite John Crawley's defiance, England ought not to havelost six wickets yesterday.

One change they should already have decided on for Perth is Jack Russell for Rhodes, who has kept wicket indifferently throughout the tour, and whose series average now stands at 4.4 after seven innings.

It makes you shudder to watch him coming in at No 6, although at least the shuddering does not last for very long.

GRAHAM GOOCH Born: Leytonstone, 23 July 1953

First-class debut: 1973, for Essex.

Test debut: 1975. Made a `pair' v Australia at Edgbaston.

Tests to date: 117 (Joint English record holder with David Gower)

England captain: 34 times Test runs to date: 8,859

Average: 42.79

Highest score: 333 v India (Lord's 1990).

Bowling to date: 23 wickets Average: 46.47

One-day internationals: 125

Other details: Banned from Test cricket for three years for joining `rebel' tour to South Africa in 1982.

Leading test run scorers

Tests Runs Ave 100s A Border (Aus) 156 11174 50.56 27

S Gavaskar (Ind) 125 10122 51.12 34

G Gooch (Eng) 117 8859 42.79 20

J Miandad (Pak) 124 8832 52.57 23

V Richards (WI) 121 8540 50.23 24

D Gower (Eng) 117 8231 44.25 18

G Boycott (Eng) 108 8114 47.72 22