Cricket: Gooch queries players' desire

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The Independent Online
GRAHAM GOOCH yesterday re-emphasised the need for a stronger domestic system in the aftermath of this winter's Ashes failure - and revealed grave personal concerns about the desire of England's players to improve.

England's 3-1 defeat was only partially compensated by their memorable 12-run victory in Melbourne and a competitive display during the 98-run final Test defeat in Sydney which stretched Australia's unbeaten series victories to six.

Gooch, the England tour manager, believes the county system must be improved and players need to become more aware of the sacrifices required. He is insistent that English cricket must address the problem or suffer many more years of demoralising defeats against the world's best teams.

"We haven't really played our best cricket in the early part of the series. The key is to reproduce it consistently and I don't think things will improve until we build from the bottom upwards," he stressed.

"We need to develop our whole game over a long period of time and then when players come into the highest level they are going to be better equipped for it. Our domestic system has to be much stronger and leaner and have only the best players involved - if you're not good enough you don't play. When we get that right and the cricket's tough and more akin to what they face in Test cricket then I think we'll see the benefit.

"You will get tougher, stronger characters who are more resilient. There are not many who come straight into Test cricket and hit it straight off and if people think that our domestic cricket is serving us well, producing quality Test players and hardened, competitive Test players then I think they are misguided."

Gooch's criticisms have partly been addressed by the counties' historic agreement to accept a two-division County Championship, but more worrying is the failure of existing players to identify the work ethic involved at Test level. Gooch claimed: "Every player in the UK playing county cricket aspires to play for England, but do they know what they need to do and what they need to sacrifice to achieve that? When you talk to players about doing this and that to improve they all agree, but when they go away they don't do anything about it. The motivation to get to the top comes from within - coaches and advisors can help you but the drive has got to come from the person.

"You have to put the game first and things you need to do to be fit for your job or practice or whatever. I don't think you'll see Steve Waugh lacking in preparation, and I'm sure the Pete Samprases of this world don't get to their level without putting in the time in pursuit of that excellence."

Gooch stressed that removing the coach, David Lloyd, is unlikely to bring a change of fortunes without the players to achieve it. "David Lloyd has worked tremendously hard with the team and he feels this defeat very much because we've worked hard to put together a tight unit," he said. "It's a mistake to remove the coach because you can't remove the players - the best players in the UK are here give or take a couple of names.

"We've had three coaches since Micky Stewart and the results have marginally improved although they are still a little bit roller-coaster and I don't think it's right to blame the coach."

Gooch believes one possible answer is to remove overseas players from the domestic game and invest their large salaries on developing home-grown talent. "I have nothing against them in principle, but to take pounds 100,000 out of the wage bill for one player, you have to ask whether that is money well spent?"

Shane Warne is to lead Australia's one-day team in the absence of injured captain, Steve Waugh. The latter's twin brother, Mark, was chosen as vice- captain in the 14-man squad picked for the first five matches of the triangular series against England and Sri Lanka.