Cricket: Gooch works alone in nets

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The Independent Online
Graham Gooch was the only England cricketer to have a net yesterday. The rest spent the day playing golf, cuddling the koalas at a wildlife park, sampling the products of a winery and generally lazing around. It was their second day off in a week and that statistic alone provides an interesting insight into Michael Atherton's ethos as captain.

England players under Atherton and Keith Fletcher enjoy much more R and R than they did when Gooch and Micky Stewart ran the show. Gooch has always been a dedicated professional, relishing the need for long and frequent nets. As captain, he attempted to apply what worked for him to the rest of the side and this caused problems; indeed it was fundamental to the schism between him and David Gower that developed here four years ago and never healed. Stewart was a Sgt Major character prone to ordering extra nets when things went wrong, as they so often did.

Their obsession was not just with cricket practice. Gooch and Stewart also advocated physical jerks. The players were each given individual training programmes, underwent fitness testing - and woe betide anybody who did not score better marks than in their previous test - and Gooch would run several miles before breakfast.

The thought of the players having no practice after defeat in a day/nighter and the day before the opening first-class match of the tour would have given Gooch and Stewart apoplexy. Many times, the players were made to practise morning and afternoon, something this squad has not done once.

'I believe plenty of relaxation is as important as plenty of practice on a long tour,' Atherton said. 'I expect the players to perform with the correct degree of application both at nets and in matches. If they do that, they will have time to unwind.'

Gooch's beliefs could hardly be more different. 'I'm certain that, if I hadn't practised and trained so hard, I wouldn't now be playing at this level,' he said. 'I enjoy it, so it has never been a hardship to me, and I will continue preparing in the same way for as long as I play first-class cricket. Some people have made me sound more like a gym instructor than a cricket captain and, even though my captaincy methods seem to be out of fashion, I would do it the same way all over again.'

Darren Gough, who missed the four-day match that started in the early hours of this morning because of a stiff side, will be fit for the game against South Australia on Friday.

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