Cricket: Knee injury adds to Gooch's torment

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IN THE context of what local commentators are calling India's worst political crisis since Independence, England's own cricketing leadership problems are inconsequential - as the man at the centre, Graham Gooch, indirectly recognised yesterday.

But like India's communal troubles - Delhi endured widespread political rioting yesterday - they are not going away in a hurry and Gooch also appears, reluctantly, to be coming to terms with his own mortality - encouraged by hints from his over-worked joints.

Gooch's body, unlike its owner, is a regular whinger and the latest bit to start complaining is his left knee. Gooch normally answers his body with the glare he reserves for questions about a curly-haired left-handed cricket commentator, but this time it could be serious.

After three heavy Test defeats and a mashing in the tabloids, the injury has further depleted his confidence and Gooch has made further 'I don't know if I can go on' utterances. An operation is being considered, though Gooch insists that the knee, while 'awkward', is 'not hampering my play'.

'It is a bit of a wear and tear problem,' said Gooch, who will decide if he needs an operation when he returns to England.

Also on the agenda before he jumps the rapidly sinking ship is a heart-to-heart with his mentor and England coach, Keith Fletcher. 'I have to have a long chat with Keith before I get back to England. I am going to think about my future. I'm not making any decisions at the moment. No one wants to go on longer than they are worth.'

It is hardly the stuff to inspire the troops and Gooch's decision to withdraw himself from the front line on the grounds that he is 'not contributing at the top of the order' and bat at No 6 in today's third one-day international here will hardly help.

England have reverted to form with most of the regular one-day performers being called up. Their mood, while not bubbly, is better than their captain's, although were the hotel still to feature live monkeys as an additional room feature, as it did on Dexter's tour 30 years ago, that might change.

As it is, the players will be well advised to steer clear of one of the benefits modernisation has brought to India - a satellite sports channel. The sight of South Africa, recent easy winners over India, being beaten by the West Indies and Pakistan is a salutary reminder of England's new status in world cricket. However, whatever today's result, England have beaten all those teams in one-day competition in recent years.

Bangalore, India's garden city, is as good a place as any to start rehabilitation. It is also, however, home to Anil Kumble, who, more than any other player, engineered England's miserable Test series.

The wide avenues are decorated with advertising hoardings showing the 23-year-old wrist-spinner, under-rated even as his 21st victim headed for the pavilion on Tuesday, grinning out from under his spectacles.

Bangalore is less frenetic than most Indian cities and as such has been an ideal place for England to recuperate. That is, except for the fax machine which has given the skipper some unpleasant poolside reading. Though sometimes portrayed as the stubbled hard man, he admitted that to follow in the tradition of Taylor's Turnips and Gatt the Prat in the tabloids has hurt. But he did so with a better sense of the wider world than he is generally credited.

'Anyone who says he is not hurt by criticism is a liar,' he said. 'But you have to get things in perspective; there are worse things in the world than losing a few games for England.'

In India yesterday that was painfully obvious.

ENGLAND XII (Third one-day international, Bangalore, today): R A Smith, A J Stewart, G A Hick, M W Gatting, N H Fairbrother, * G A Gooch, C C Lewis, D A Reeve, P A J DeFreitas, P W Jarvis, D E Malcolm, J E Emburey.