Cricket: Gooch ready to do his duty

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The Independent Online
PROPPED UP in his hotel bed clutching a thermometer, Graham Gooch had doubtless envisaged a more romantic eve of 100th Test match press conference than the one he croaked his way through yesterday. Given that he spoke for 40 minutes (which is not far short of his total output for the previous 99), it was not hard to diagnose delirium.

However, the England captain is not thought to be in serious danger of failing to make tomorrow's final 11, despite the fact that he missed net practice yesterday with a viral complaint that has now developed into a secondary chest infection. 'Let's put it this way,' he said. 'I wouldn't have felt too clever, but if there had been a match today instead of the nets, I would have been there.'

It is none the less a worry for England, as is the fact that Ian Salisbury has gone down with something similar. The Eden Gardens pitch is dry and cracked enough for the tourists to suspect that this is a two-spinner surface, and Salisbury has looked comfortably the best of the three currently available.

Gooch was in unusually reflective mood yesterday, making it clear that he had (or hoped he had) 'a good few years left' but that 'this was definitely my last tour'. 'The only reason I am here now is for Keith Fletcher,' he said. 'I am not ducking the West Indians, and have nothing to prove. However, and I know this might sound silly given my domestic situation, I don't want three months away from home and England any more.'

As for his 100th Test, Gooch said that he never thought, four years ago, that he would still be playing at this level, but that his motivation, dedication to fitness, and the captaincy had all kept him going.

'My fielding has deteriorated, but the captaincy has actually helped my batting.' The figures bear this out, too, as Gooch's Test average as captain is double that as a player, and leading the side, he said, 'has made me a different batsman, but a better one.'

In what sounded like an obituary, but was not meant as one, he said: 'I would like to be remembered as an entertaining player, and one that people enjoyed watching. I would like to win back the Ashes next summer, and I would also like to win three consecutive championships with Essex.'

Gooch has never been able to understand anyone not bursting with enthusiasm for running around frostbound cricket grounds in early April, and it is widely thought that this is why David Gower is currently here as a reporter rather than a player.

Gooch, however, still claims that Gower was omitted solely for cricketing reasons. 'It is not correct to say that his face does not fit. We wanted continuity, and balance for the one-day games and I was happier with two experienced players (John Emburey and Mike Gatting) than three.'

However, it is slightly incongruous for Gooch to talk about continuity when he so often refers to the short term, and it is even more curious that Gower was in both his 16 and Keith Fletcher's one week before the tour party was chosen. Graeme Hick and Neil Fairbrother only figured in one list each, and yet both of them are here.

Maybe the lopsided balance of Tests and one-day internationals had a hand; maybe Micky Stewart. However, the one thing that no one swallows is that Gower was overlooked because of his age, and it was the selectors' failure to realise that they required a better excuse than the one they came up with that finally turned it into such a disproportionately argumentative issue.

Hick's fruitful form,

Gower debate, page 37