Gooch's tribute to century-makers

Graham Gooch yesterday saluted the dedication and determination of Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart as they prepare to join him in England's select club of players with a century of Test appearances to their name.

Graham Gooch yesterday saluted the dedication and determination of Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart as they prepare to join him in England's select club of players with a century of Test appearances to their name.

Only five England players have achieved the feat, Gooch being the last to reach the landmark against India in Calcutta seven years ago to join David Gower, Colin Cowdrey, Geoff Boycott and Ian Botham.

That band of players will be increased by two at Old Trafford on Thursday when Atherton and Stewart, Gooch's immediate successors as captain, make their 100th appearances in the third Test against West Indies.

Their achievement is a lasting tribute to their consistent performances under less than preferable conditions. Atherton has carried a back problem for the majority of his Test career, and Stewart has been moved up and down the order while also keeping wicket.

Gooch, who opened with both players during his record 118 appearances for England and still helps them with their technique, said: "From a very early stage of them coming into the England dressing-room, it was clear they had what it takes at Test level.

"Their attitude, their will to win, compete and beat the opposition was there for all to see - and I don't just mean that in a team framework but in the one-to-one confrontations on the field which are all part of cricket.

"There are confrontations on the field between a batsman and a bowler, and they have both been at their best when that has happened. Michael and Alec are very adept at being focused and equal to any confrontation they come across."

That steely nerve and refusal to buckle is perhaps the only comparison between the two. They come from different backgrounds and for many years were rivals for the captaincy before Atherton succeeded Gooch.

Atherton is the more defensively minded of the pair and cares little for opinions of others providing he is doing his job as an opener and for the team - while Stewart is the more expansive stroke-maker, always immaculate in his appearance and a great diplomat.

Gooch attributes their lasting success at Test level to the dedication and thorough preparation they put into their game - something Gooch himself was renowned for.

"They are role models for the way they have gone about their play," he said. "Their dedication and the way they have applied themselves has been exemplary.

"Batting doesn't start when you take guard; batting starts with all the things you do beforehand. It's not a case of going out and working for six hours every day, but you have to do the right quality preparation."

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