England seek the benefit of Gooch's experience

The game's all-time leading run-scorer is in South Africa to give his batting wisdom to his younger compatriots ahead of their tough Test series
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The Independent Online

For the next fortnight, England's batsmen will have at their service the heaviest run-scorer in the game's history. These are the first 67,057 reasons why Graham Gooch has again been recruited to the tourists' cause as they prepare for their daunting Test series against South Africa.

It is almost 14 years since Gooch played his 118th and final Test match, 10 since he last helped to coach England's batsmen, but as he spoke yesterday about his new role it was with the passion and vibrancy of the 19-year-old kid who first played for Essex in 1973.

He has been brought in partly because the England coach, Andy Flower, is now too stretched to give the attention to the squad's batting that it needs and deserves, partly because Flower understands what vast knowledge he has to impart. Gooch is promising no miracles in the next few days but all concerned hope it will be the start of a relationship that will reap rich dividends.

"Coaching to me is about building a relationship, a bond of trust and working with someone both mentally and technically over a period of time," said Gooch. "You can't just come in and say after watching someone for 10 minutes in the nets, 'right you've got do that and that,' because it just doesn't work like that. You've got to get to know them and they've got to get to know you, so really initially it's going to be observing and talking and seeing how things work out."

But all of England's players can profit in the next few days. Of Gooch's runs, 13,190 were scored for England in internationals and he has spent a decade honing his coaching credentials, building an enviable reputation for being a developer and champion of batting talent. He coaches the batsmen at Essex, where he spent all his career, and was instrumental in helping the opener Alastair Cook to change his stance and backlift at the tail-end of last season.

Gooch could talk about cricket all day and probably will to England's young guns this week in East London. He is staying throughout the first Test in Centurion and although his position will then be reviewed, the likelihood is that he will be used in chunks throughout the year. There is a suspicion that Flower would like him around permanently but Gooch will not be easily prised from Essex, the county to which he remains utterly devoted – "the love of my life" – and for whose academy he raises £30,000 a year and donates some of his own money.

"My philosophy on batting is that there are four key things," he said. "There is your over-arching attitude to your job as a sportsman, there's your technical ability, there's your knowledge and there's your concentration. Technical ability is the way each individual plays, where he scores his runs, how he plays forward, back, how he hits the ball. Knowledge is the experience, the capacity to learn, talking, watching, picking up information from different sources and putting it to good use for your game, how to play on a dry turner in Mumbai and a wet seamer in Johannesburg. But the technical ability and the knowledge are useless without the concentration."

At 56, Gooch has kept pace with changes in the game – the sheer power and pace – and was clutching a dossier on how to bat in Twenty20, a form of the game in which he would have prospered but never played. His runs, 44,846 of them first class, 22,211 in one-day matches, make him the game's leading scorer.

"It would be wrong not to be concerned about Twenty20," he said. "I have no problem with the format, it's exciting and there are skills that come into it which improve the game generally. The danger is players could opt for the 20-over game.

"There will soon be a set of tournaments around the world which might make some decide 'right, that's what I'm going to do, I'm not going to play the longer form of the game' and make a good living out of five tournaments. There is a danger that could dilute the quality of players playing Test cricket." In the next few days, and all being well the months and years thereafter, Gooch will persuade England's batsmen of the merits of Test cricket and how to play it.