Cricket: Gooch split casts cloud over tourists: England caught cold by captain's marital discord

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S players woke up in Delhi yesterday to find all attention on the first day of their 13- week tour of India and Sri Lanka focused on the break-up of Graham Gooch's marriage.

The squad arrived at their Delhi hotel at 4.30am local time and it was near lunchtime before most of them heard about their captain's marital problems. Gooch, 39, known throughout cricket as a family man, married his wife, Brenda, 38, in 1976 and they have three daughters under nine.

A dour character at the best of times, Gooch had been in conspicuously cheerful mood on the eight-and-a-half hour flight to Delhi and posed happily for photographs and chatted to reporters when besieged by the Indian media on arrival.

Later, the Essex and England opener was less forthcoming. 'It is a private and personal matter and I do not wish to make any further comment,' he said.

Gooch held a team meeting, after a gentle work-out near the hotel, to impress upon his side that nothing has changed as far as his captaincy is concerned. However, the news could hardly have come at a worst time for the tourists.

The first fortnight is vital in establishing camaraderie - and the next couple of weeks will be difficult for Gooch as he tries to deal with personal difficulties while leading from the front in practice sessions and early matches. England have an acclimatisation and practice programme in the Indian capital before the opening match against the Ranji champions in Faridabad on Sunday.

Keith Fletcher, the England team manager and Gooch's mentor at Essex, and Bob Bennett, the England tour manager, were the only ones in the party to have known of the break-up before departure.

'I did have an inkling of this,' Fletcher said, 'but I was very saddened when Graham told me. But the problem is very much a private one and I hope he will now be left alone to get on with leading the team on this tour.'

Bennett said that Gooch's 'situation is obviously an extremely personal one', but he was 'bearing up magnificently' and his duties in India would not be affected.

Alan Smith, the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, was as surprised as anyone to learn of Gooch's troubles. 'There is no reason why I should have been told,' he said. 'It is entirely a personal matter and one for Graham to deal with as he thinks best. I'm sure he will get on with the job he has done conspicuously well for the last few years.'

Peter Edwards, the Essex secretary who has known the Gooches longer than most, was staggered. 'I have great difficulty believing this,' he said. 'I would have believed any other person you care to name - but not Graham.'

Gooch, who has two landmarks awaiting him on the sub-continent having played in 99 Tests and scored 99 first-class centuries, will still be returning home early. He will miss the Sri Lanka leg of the tour from 6 to 21 March, but insisted yesterday that his marriage was not a factor in that decision made last September when the party was picked.

He initially gave 'personal reasons' for his decision to opt out after India and those were always taken to mean that he wanted to have a more time off with his family before the coming summer series with Australia.

Gooch has always disliked the side of international cricket life which means long absences from home - but his 16-year marriage had been regarded as one of the strongest in the game.

Once after scoring a double century for Essex at Chelmsford, Gooch rushed past waiting reporters, jumped into his car and said: 'Sorry, lads, I can't stop - I've promised to take Brenda shopping before the supermarket closes.' His wife and daughters have often joined him on tour and it is ironic that this situation should arise at the start of what will almost certainly be his last international tour.