'Daddy' Gooch proud of protégé Cook as he savours English rise

 

The Oval is the place to be, it would appear, if you want to see a Test team hit rock bottom. England managed it 12 years ago when losing to New Zealand and, for a couple of hours yesterday, India's attack set a new low in terms of scraping the barrel.

There is still time, just about, for MS Dhoni's team to salvage a bit of pride from this series. But for Nasser Hussain and the class of 1999 there can be no escape from a statistic which is set in stone. Well, set on the pages of cricket's history book, anyway.

For some long-in-the-tooth followers of English cricket, though, the last summer of the old millennium was almost a triumph compared to what went on at various times during the previous 10 years.

Losing 2-1 at home to the plucky Kiwis is not so bad, is it? Well, not when put alongside umpteen Ashes series wallopings or, for that matter, the 1993 "brownwash" in India when the hosts won 3-0.

Those were the days when England's planning was not quite so meticulous as it is now. They took young leg-spinner Ian Salisbury with them to bowl in the nets, then promptly picked him ahead of their senior slow bowlers – John Emburey and Phil Tufnell – to start the series in Kolkata. And India, seeing something in the pitch the visitors missed, selected all three spinners.

You just cannot imagine something like that happening in 2011, where every base is covered.

"From the time I was a player, captain, selector (and now batting coach), I've only been interested in one thing – and that is England winning matches," said Graham Gooch, a key member of the regime put together by team director Andy Flower. "I think down the years England have put together good teams that have played well. I think the difference with this team is that it is playing consistent cricket on a regular basis. It is improving all the time.

"In the past we were always capable of winning matches and winning the odd series but being able to beat opponents series to series sometimes eluded us. But now there is a good buzz around the team, they are well led and well drilled and we are seeing the benefit of that on the field."

No-one, of course, has been more consistent over the past year than Alastair Cook – the opener who sees Gooch as his mentor and guiding light. "I try to coach run-making, not batting," said Gooch. "Anyone can bat but can you make runs?

"Alastair has learned his game and his trade and he has the four attributes that make up a run-maker: a great attitude, technical ability, he is increasing his knowledge all the time of how to play in different situations and, top of the list, he has massive powers of concentration."

It all seems a far cry from the dark days of the 1990s. And, as Gooch stressed last night, long may it continue.

Stats magic: The numbers that matter from the first day

1959 England have not beaten India at The Oval in any of their last six Test meetings (five draws and a defeat, in 1971). The last home win was in 1959, by an innings and 27 runs.

5 The Test summer ends as it began, with the captain who won the toss choosing to bat. Sri Lanka's Tillakaratne Dilshan did that in Cardiff – and his team lost by an innings. Win toss and bowl it was for the next five Tests until Strauss bucked the trend yesterday.

16 England have gone 16 Test matches without fielding a debutant, the longest sequence in their history. The most recent was Ajmal Shahzad against Bangladesh at Old Trafford last year. The previous longest streak was between June 1974 and July 1975. David Lloyd played against India and another 12 matches went by before Graham Gooch won his first cap and started with a pair. This will be the first year since 1953 that England have not awarded any player their first cap.

9 Tim Bresnan has appeared in nine successive victories from the start of his Test career (in contrast to the start of his one-day career in 2006 when England lost the first four matches he played in). Four players have had better starts – Adam Gilchirst (15), Stuart Clark (13), Brett Lee (10) and Thilan Samaraweera (10). Eldine Baptiste's entire Test career of 10 matches for West Indies was victorious.

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