Cricket: First Test: Blade with a double edge: Richard Williams at Trent Bridge asks if Gooch's presence is hindering progress

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The Independent Online
IT WAS something of a surprise to discover that when Graham Gooch acknowledged the crowd's applause a quarter of an hour before lunch at Trent Bridge yesterday, he was doing so to celebrate passing 200 runs for only the second time in the 108 matches in which he has worn England's colours since his debut in 1978.

On the first occasion, of course, against India at Lord's in 1990, he went on to make 333, the seventh highest individual score in Test history and the achievement for which posterity will remember him. Apart from that marathon, the next best among his 19 Test centuries scored before the present match was a mere 196, against Australia at the Oval in 1985. Looking at this New Zealand attack, Gooch will count himself unfortunate if he does not have two more double centuries to his name by the time the opposition switches to South Africa next month.

Gooch now needs only 38 runs to overtake Viv Richards's Test aggregate of 8,540, and a further 149 to pass Javed Miandad's total and take third place in the all-time rankings. He would then need several more series against New Zealand to catch Sunil Gavaskar (10,122) and Allan Border (10,695), and even Raymond Illingworth's generosity may not stretch that far.

Seldom can Gooch have passed an important milestone in such a tranquil atmosphere. A decent audience turned up at Trent Bridge yesterday, but the cold wind and occasional spit of rain kept them quiet. As, perhaps, did the thought that they had paid between pounds 15 and pounds 25 to watch a display that, through nobody's fault, was worth no more than a fiver on any scale of entertainment values.

It may be, too, that the lack of obvious enthusiasm for England's performance had something to do with a feeling that Gooch should not be in the present side at all. Conversations with fans around the ground certainly suggested as much. The resentment of his ability to avoid the West Indian quicks before returning to massacre the toothless Kiwis is by no means confined to the likes of John Crawley and Graham Thorpe, whose development will unquestionably have been hindered. Will Gooch still be on the scene when Ambrose and Walsh arrive next summer? Or will Thorpe and Crawley be thrown to the lions, without having enjoyed an opportunity to establish themselves in a less hostile environment?

If Illingworth imagines that England's followers require nothing more than immediate success, he is wrong. In so far as one can employ anecdotal evidence, it seems likely that they were overwhelmingly in favour of last season's traumatic clear-out, and sympathetic towards the efforts of Michael Atherton to bring through a new generation in the most difficult of circumstances during the winter tour. A century from Crawley or Thorpe at Trent Bridge yesterday would have brought more rejoicing than Gooch's double ton.

And, as it happened, the former captain's two-hour progress from an overnight 152 to his dismissal on 210 was hardly convincing. An outside edge off Matthew Hart in the fifth over of the morning was the first of a surprising number of false strokes. His occasional swish to leg was particularly fallible in the morning, giving hope successively to Hart, Dion Nash and Shane Thomson. Returning from lunch, he played the second delivery of the afternoon for turn and edged Thomson's straight ball to Martin Crowe at slip.

Gooch's achievements on behalf of England have been as admirable as his general commitment over the years has been patchy. It is his right to determine his availability. But it is also the England's management's duty to look beyond the short term and to use this summer to continue the work begun last autumn.

If Illingworth thinks that the revolution started when he took over in April, he is doing his captain a disservice. This time next year he may have cause to regret a decision that, however strong its appeal to his native pragmatism, would have been better resisted.

(Photograph omitted)

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