THERE IS a recurring whisper that Graham Gooch will not lead England against Australia this summer; that he will either opt out or be put out by Ted Dexter's committee. What will be unquestioned is his value to the cause for Gooch remains the rock upon which young Australian teeth are most likely to be broken.
Yesterday, under Chelmsford's grey skies, a good opening day crowd of 1,500 or so watched him for three hours, all, except perhaps England's A team, wishing him his official 100th century. He actually reached that figure in Cuttack in January but the International Cricket Council ruled that a century of much better value, in South Africa in 1983, was ruled out because the opposition was then unrecognised. The game's statisticians, by and large, dispute this and the argument between the Scribes and the Pharisees seems likely to enliven the game for some time.
Unfortunately Gooch could not freshen the dispute yesterday for, after being dropped twice at slip off Andrew Caddick, when three and 53, he had reached 88, including 12 boundaries, and a pulled six off Paul Taylor, when Taylor, in his second spell, got a touch of the devil. Gooch went forward to flick him to leg only to watch Jack Russell complete a diving, rolling catch. The next ball knocked back Nick Knight's middle stump, off an edge, and his fourth ball, of the 64th over, had Mike Garnham leg before.
The selectors are here principally to watch Martyn Moxon's team but they will remember John Stephenson's robust 38, ended when he tried a cowshot to a huge full toss. Nasser Hussain, lean and unsmiling, also produced a competent and determined innings, adding 55 in 20 overs with Derek Pringle when the champions were rocking. Hussain, seizing his chance, was 76 not out in fading light.
Caddick, with his easy rhythm and high action, was the best if unluckiest of Moxon's bowlers. Taylor and Dominic Cork were better in their second spells while Ian Salisbury, given 27 overs, was his usual mixture of juicy fruits and acid drops. Taylor finished with the best figures and won more movement as the ball got older, but that ball was ceremoniously tossed to the umpire for inspection at the end of each over.
Yet the day belonged to Gooch, not for the first time on this ground. Given English skies and a pitch firmer than might be expected in April, he looked an altogether happier and more confident figure than the careworn and weary cricketer seen on our screens in the early hours of February mornings. Then he could be seen as an ex-captain; yesterday his sharpest critics would have to concede that England without Gooch is unthinkable as Essex without Dagenham. By way of reaffirming his authority, the captain yesterday gave a county cap to Mark Ilott.
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