Cricket: Gooch declares a desire to resume playing for England: Tour doubts cleared up as ball-tampering debate reopens

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The Independent Online
IN a U-turn any self-respecting Tory politician would have been proud of, Graham Gooch has made himself available for next winter's Ashes tour of Australia. Indeed, so eager is the former England captain to regain his Test place that he has even expressed a desire to participate in the impending one- day series against New Zealand, a chore most 40-somethings would gladly live without.

Months of speculation reached an unexpectedly satisfactory conclusion yesterday when the chairman of selectors, Ray Illingworth, drove to Stockton-on-Tees to discuss the matter with the Essex captain prior to the Sunday League game against Durham.

'I have given him no guarantees,' Illingworth said. 'I told him that if he made himself available for the tour next winter he would go into the pot along with everyone else. But he was keen to come back and actually volunteered for the one-day games.'

Illingworth acknowledged, nevertheless, that the issue should have been resolved a good deal earlier. He said he had specifically asked Keith Fletcher to sound out Gooch at an Essex dinner two weeks ago, but England's manager claimed he had had no chance to do so. This, Illingworth conceded, had 'left us in the lurch a bit'.

Gooch's well-chronicled antipathy towards spending winters away from hearth and family heightened when he was coaxed into touring India two years ago by Fletcher. However, despite opting out of the recent series against the West Indies after announcing his unwillingness to tour again, he admitted to a sense of pique upon discovering he had been excluded from the latest Coopers and Lybrand ratings.

Gooch's desire to embellish his English record of 8,293 Test runs has never really been in doubt. 'I haven't put in all that work over the years to give it all away,' he declared recently. 'My ultimate driving force is the desire to be No 1, to be better than anyone else.'

Gooch had hoped to persuade Illingworth to allow him to continue his international career exclusively on home soil, only to be swiftly dis- abused of such notions when Illingworth, a man with no time for anything less than full commitment, took office. The England captain, Mike Atherton, is of a like mind.

Where Gooch will fit in to the new scheme of things when the first England squad of the summer is announced next Sunday is another matter. Fletcher is adamant that the opening pairing of Atherton and Alec Stewart, one of England's few unmitigated successes in the Caribbean, will not be tampered with, leaving Gooch as an obvious candidate to fill the perennially troublesome No 3 berth.