Cricket: Gooch basks in freedom

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The Independent Online
NOT the least remarkable aspect of this extraordinary final Test has been the relaxed and rejuvenated demeanour of Graham Gooch. If this new frame of mind is to become permanent now that he has been freed from the worries of captaincy it would be a bonus indeed if he was to change his mind about the tour of the West Indies.

Gooch batted with panache in both England innings. Fielding in a crash helmet close in at short leg on Friday, he was almost skittish and he has smiled more times in this match than he did in the first five Tests put together.

It is one thing to be rid of the captaincy, quite another to enjoy, and to thrive under, the influence of his successor. Perhaps relief has been the prime motivating influence but maybe Michael Atherton has touched a hidden chord somewhere in his predecessor. Gooch was known to want Alec Stewart to succeed him although, probably to his surprise, he found he liked the climate created by Atherton.

There was a parallel to this in 1981 when, after the second Test at Lord's in which he bagged a pair, Ian Botham resigned his commission. The selectors recalled Mike Brearley, who also insisted on keeping his immediate predecessor in the side for the next match.

Brearley liked Botham, had proposed him as his original successor after the Jubilee Test in Bombay early in 1980, and at once made him feel at home when he was back in charge of the side at Headingley the following year.

Botham might have felt humiliated but Brearley turned him around mentally to the extent that Botham was able to orchestrate England's most remarkable victory ever over Australia with that phenomenal 149 not out in the second innings.

I am not remotely suggesting that Atherton had to pick up the pieces to anything like the same extent as Brearley. Yet he created an atmosphere Gooch was able to live with and engendered a spirit which enabled his predecessor to forget the past and to bat at his very best. Just like Brearley's, Atherton's was no mean achievement and speaks a great deal for the man.