Cricket: Gooch finds no answer for depressed demeanour: Paul Hayward reports on the England captain's abortive attempt to find his batting form in Essex's second team

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The Independent Online
WHAT is to be done about Graham Gooch's heavy-shouldered, trench-war demeanour? The England captain has his own answer. At Colchester yesterday he was in the nets at 8.30am before playing his first Essex second XI game since 1974. Work, more work. And all for just 25 runs.

Poor him. Fancy having to apologise for trying too hard. The official explanation was that with no first-class cricket scheduled for Essex in the run-up to the first Test next week, Gooch was turning out for the reserves simply to gain batting practice. In his clean-shaven but sullen face, though, there were darker signals to do with self-punishment and loss.

Loss of authority, loss, perhaps, of confidence. England captains were forever vulnerable, but seldom has Gooch, the player and schoolboy's icon, been as beleaguered as now. Why else the early start yesterday? Why be there at all? There was a shrunken, famished look about him as he ate his regulation steak and kidney pie for lunch, a look that will make his return to old glories all the more heroic should it come.

The day started and ended badly. Gooch lost the toss again. Then he dropped a slip catch. It lent an almost Shakespearian tone to the proceedings that a local man known as 'Crazy Charlie' was circling the ground like the fool at the scene of regicide. About 30 anoraked residents of Colchester had turned up. There were at least that many photographers and reporters, all of whom were ignored as Gooch traipsed on and off the field at the head of Essex's B team.

At 11.56 Gooch came on to bowl. High Noon, perhaps. Gooch made a breakthrough, with Somerset coasting on 63 for 0. Off went Keith Parsons - bowled by Gooch - and at last the experiment of stepping down a grade seemed to yield some joy. Two wickets for 15 runs in 13 overs. Not bad.

The problem, though, has been Gooch's batting. His last 12 international appearances have yielded just 182 runs, and 17 times in succession he has failed to reach 50 for England. For a player capable of scoring 333 - as Gooch did against India in 1990 - higher standards inevitably apply, and few have bothered to remember that his county form so far this season has been good, a fact which makes his appearance at Colchester yesterday all the harder to fathom.

It may serve as a lesson to younger players who are out of form. It will almost certainly hearten the Australian tourists, who will regard Gooch's willingness to stay behind after school in this way with a mixture of sympathy and relish.

Shortly after tea he got his batting practice, the familiar white helmet bobbing against an unfamiliar and strangely unfitting scene.

On balance, coming here was a mistake, because at 6.45pm Gooch was caught lbw by Andrew Payne having taken 65 minutes to reach 25 runs in poor light.

It was a hiding to nothing for the man with nowhere to hide.

(Photograph omitted)

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