When England’s leading Test runs scorer insists you failed to meet the required standard, it may be worth listening. If that man also happens to be the team’s batting coach, it might pay to act as well.
Graham Gooch, holder of both posts, did his utmost to sound optimistic yesterday while lamenting the wretchedness of the batting which led directly to England’s 381-run defeat in the first Test of the Ashes series in Brisbane. He was forthright, candid and entirely correct.
If the whole cohort of batsmen do not buck up their ideas and find some way (any way will do) to repel Mitchell Johnson and his pals this week, then the Ashes so lovingly held and cherished for four years will be on their way to being surrendered. Gooch’s words ought to have made the players wince.
“It’s tough, I wouldn’t deny that,” he said. “It’s not the sort of defeat you want – a heavy defeat and we didn’t compete. In high-level sport you need to compete. The batsmen’s job is to set up a platform for the bowlers to try to win the game.
“We didn’t even get close to that. Everyone’s got to look at their game and how they can improve on their performance. There was nothing wrong with the wicket – a great Test wicket.”
In a round of interviews yesterday, Gooch returned repeatedly to the theme: not good enough, must do better. A more poetic soul might have evinced the spirit of King Harry on St Crispin’s Day. Gooch did not score many of his 8,900 Test runs by sledging in Shakespearean verse, however, but England really must be the few, happy few come Thursday morning.
The tourists, as they have every reason to do, are clinging on to their comeback in India a year ago as if it were a rosary bead counting prayers. If they did it then, they can do it now, although then their difficulties were with infernal spin and now they are with high pace.
“It’s the first time Australia have beaten England for quite a few Tests and we’ve had a lot of success over the last few years,” Gooch said. “We lost the first Test in Ahmedabad a year ago. There is character in the team and skill. We have to show better will than we did in the last game.
“To get dismissed twice for under 200 is very disappointing. You’re not going to win any games of cricket if you do that. We know we didn’t perform anywhere near the standard required and this team is capable of. We’re going to work hard to put that right. It’s quite simple.”
Much of the gossip in Adelaide is about who will bat at three for England. Gooch conceded that it was almost certainly between Joe Root and Ian Bell and readers of runes are still going with Root.
Important though this is, the nub of England’s innings, of competitiveness, may stem from their captain, Alastair Cook. The feeling is that if he goes well, then so will England.
The record does not quite bear this out. England have lost four and won 11 of the 25 matches in which Cook has scored a hundred, lost one and won 11 of the 23 in which Kevin Pietersen has made a hundred and lost none while winning 14 of the 20 in which Bell has made a hundred. On those grounds Bell is the man everyone should crave to make it 21 in Adelaide but Captain Cook carries an unmistakeable resonance with him into the arena.
“He is a massive part of the success of England,” Gooch said. “Generally, when Alastair does well, the team does well, if you look at some of the Tests in India last year. And, of course, being captain – I think it is quite an advantage to be captain and open the batting because you get the chance to dictate terms, set the tone, to set the agenda, so to speak. Your captain scoring runs up front and leading the way is always a big boost for the team.”
Gooch scored 11 of his 20 hundreds as captain (of which they lost one), still more than any other man to have led England in a Test match, though Cook, with seven in half the matches, is catching fast. Cook was one of two players to have long, intensive one-on-one coaching sessions yesterday.
He was with Gooch, working assiduously on that line outside off stump, where fourth and fifth stump would be, and where he has so often been ensnared into giving a catch behind. Meanwhile, Matt Prior worked with the team coach, Andy Flower, probably on a range of issues which will have embraced when to stick and when to twist and how to avoid that instinctive flick in the short leg arc.
Since his gallant, atypical match-saving hundred in Auckland in March, Prior has scored 180 runs in 15 innings at an average of 15. That is the form of a tailender, not an all-rounder and he is wise and experienced enough to know that it cannot continue. Credit eventually runs out.
Throughout his career, Cook has been mentored by Gooch and it has worked admirably for him. Gooch is imparting advice on matters technical and mental, yet England have made above 400, the sort of score when you can think of winning, only once in their last 12 Tests. He will continue offering the benefit of his undoubted wisdom.
“Generally that’s what I get paid to do. Whether they listen is another thing,” Gooch said. “You give advice. When you’re playing, your desire is to play, reach the top. The player is always the master.
“The coach is there to shape the player, give advice, give tips, to help him hopefully shape his career, style, play, technique. If he wants to take that advice, that’s up to him. Different things make different people tick. That’s not rocket science.” And it is not rocket science that England need.
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