Cricket: Gooch retains captaincy for the remainder of Ashes series: Determined personal display in first Test against Australia convinces chairman Dexter and his selectors that the leadership is in safe hands

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The Independent Online
IN what may be seen in history as an act of despair the England committee yesterday appointed Graham Gooch as captain against Australia for the remaining five matches of the series. He had been appointed initially for the Texaco matches and for the first three Tests and the expectation was that England would have a replacement for the 39-year-old in time for the fourth Test at Headingley in July.

Gooch, heading back to Old Trafford last night for Essex's match against Lancashire, said: 'I'm delighted the selectors have shown this confidence in me. When the captaincy is in doubt it's a constant topic for discussion. I'm sure if I'd got 20 and 30 at Old Trafford, questions would have been asked about my future. That doubt has now been cleared away and we can concentrate on getting back into the series.'

Under Gooch's leadership, England lost the Texaco series 3-0. They lost the first Test at Old Trafford. They lost in Australia, under Gooch, in 1990-91, by 10 wickets at Brisbane, by eight wickets at Melbourne and by nine wickets in Perth. Gooch's England lost the series in India, 3-0, in circumstances which had winter- bound Englishmen writhing with embarrassment.

The team looked jaded and technically deficient, temperamentally unsound, far from fully fit and, worst of all, at times they looked unconcerned. It was clear, when they returned to England in March, that the first task of the England committee was to find a new captain and have him in place in time to lead the side to West Indies next winter, Gooch having already declared he would not tour again.

However, Gooch was re-appointed once - despite his non-availability for the winter tour to West Indies - and now again after a 179-run defeat. Why?

Ted Dexter, the England chairman, explained: 'Despite the disappointment that England's rearguard action at Old Trafford - led by Gooch - narrowly failed, the personal contribution and the determination of the captain was clearly outstanding. It is now up to the rest of the team to learn from his example.'

England's manager, Keith Fletcher, added: 'The reason Graham was given only three matches was because the selectors were concerned about his form and fitness in India. At Old Trafford he proved to be back to his very best. A captain for the West Indies is not the chief concern; that is winning back the Ashes.'

That is the official line. There has to be speculation that Gooch is retained because the committee does not have sufficient confidence in any of the three possible replacements: Alec Stewart is not thought to have universal support in the dressing- room; Mike Gatting again raised doubts about his temperament when he was seen on TV mouthing an obscenity as he left the field after his second innings at Old Trafford; Mike Atherton does not captain his county, Lancashire, and is not sure of his place in the top three of the order.

Nor does the committee have the inclination to look beyond the magic circle of current or recent England players. Kim Barnett, Martyn Moxon, Chris Tavare and Allan Lamb are all county captains of stature. Barnett, especially, has led unfashionable Derbyshire with skill and imagination.

Gooch's re-appointment will also be seen as a further block to the advancement of England's younger players. Mark Lathwell, the most original batting talent since David Gower, should have played at Old Trafford. Now, unless Gooch moves down the order, Lathwell will have to wait until either Stewart or Atherton leave a vacancy.

The committee might have one escape route. If England lose heavily at Lord's - they have not won there against Australia since 1934 - and again at Trent Bridge it may be that Gooch could be persuaded to step down for the last three Tests.

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