Graham Gooch: 'Above all, I want to try and make a difference'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He played in the first ever Test in Sri Lanka. Now he's back trying to help the current England crop cope with their latest trial by spin. He talks to Stephen Brenkley

Get Graham Gooch on the subject of batting, which is slightly less difficult than pushing at an open door, and he does not easily get off it again. He loved batting and he loves the idea of batting.

In a professional playing career which spanned 27 years in all for Essex and England, he scored 67,057 runs, which is more than anybody else anywhere has ever done. Of those, 13,190 were in internationals, 8,900 in Test matches. Last month, after dabbling around as England's batting consultant for a couple of years, he was appointed the team's permanent batting coach.

"To be there working with the players and trying to assist and shape, and helping England to win cricket matches is only surpassed by going out there and doing the job yourself," he said. "I really enjoy what I do but when people say to you, 'How does it compare with playing?' – well, nothing is like playing because that's why you take up a sport, to play it. That's the ultimate; helping others is the next best thing."

Gooch has been associated with England in one way or another since he was selected for his debut at 21 in 1975 and made a pair against Australia. It was a long haul from there to the 42 he eventually averaged and for a year or so in his late thirties he was the best batsman in the world.

No Englishman since has really matched him, including the present lot. But as well as playing, he has been captain, tour manager and selector. In his recent role, Gooch's influence on England's rise has been clear and decisive. When they decided to stop mucking around and make it official and permanent, it was about time.

For Gooch there is something privileged and significant about playing cricket for England – or playing cricket at all for that matter. When they came calling he could not turn them down, because of the past, but as he said: "There's a lot more commitment in terms of time away and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't an issue. Every player and every coach in that dressing room would say the same.

"The most important thing is England being the best and most respected team in the world. I know that the clock is ticking for me a little bit at my age. I still feel fit and am ready to do the job but there's a time limit for everybody. I want to enjoy that for as long as I can but above all I want to try and make a difference. That might sound a bit lofty but that's what it is about."

Gooch was discussing batting on this occasion in the serene surroundings of the Singhalese Sports Club in Colombo, where England were playing their second and final practice match before making their way down the coast to Galle for the first Test match.

He first came to Sri Lanka 30 years ago to appear in the country's maiden Test. It was staged at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo, where England will return for the first time in the second and final Test of this mini-series next week. England won that inaugural match by seven wickets but only after Sri Lanka lost their last seven second-innings wickets for eight runs, the collapse of the naïve.

As Gooch recalled, it was a satisfactory but confused conclusion to a fraught tour of the sub-continent. England had spent the preceding four months in India where, having lost the first Test match of six, they spent the next five on a series of slow, lifeless belters, "the flattest, blandest wickets of all time", said Gooch. India secured the 1-0 victory they craved but the following year they won the World Cup and Test cricket in the country was never the same again.

The cricket was bad enough but all the time it was going on, many members of the England side, including Gooch, were negotiating contracts for a rebel tour of South Africa. The week after they were in Colombo they went to Johannesburg.

"Looking back, the business of South Africa wasn't ideal because the recruiting was going on," Gooch said. "I don't really want to talk about it but that was definitely going on in the background."

The upshot was that Gooch and several others went and were banned from playing for England for three years. If his reluctance to talk about that adventure after all this time is still curious, this assignation was made to shoot the breeze about batting.

Gooch's immediate task at hand is to ensure that the batsmen perform rather better than they did recently in the United Arab Emirates, where the collective batting defects ensured that England lost the series 3-0. He is confident in this bunch of batsmen, not complacent and also knows it cannot happen again – "or we have a problem".

"The thing in professional sport always is – you've got players doing a job, doing a good job for you, but you are always looking at the next best. It's not like a guy who is, say, a solicitor and is doing a fantastic job, you're not looking for anyone else. In sport it's not like that: you're preparing the next one, and that is no disrespect at all to these guys, who are exceptional young men."

Gooch's relationship with the players is under close scrutiny. It seemed perverse that after England batted so badly in the first Test against Pakistan he went home. That was in the contract then. "The first way you coach individuals in any sport is you build a relationship with someone and to do that you have to have an element of trust," he said. "That's how you can make the most of it. It's a two-way thing, not a one-way thing. It's not about telling. Very rarely do I just tell. You throw ideas around, you give people observations and ideas, both technical and mental across the whole spectrum.

"You can't be everything to every batsman; you can't be the perfect coach to everybody; some people you connect with better than others, that's human nature. Some people you have a bit more influence with than others. I believe you have to work with what they have got and come to agreement."

Of those who influenced him as a player, Gooch's fondest memories are of Ken Barrington. Like Gooch, Barrington had a modest start in Test cricket (a duck in his first innings) but he returned to become the archetypal builder of big innings. It is easy to imagine Gooch talking of him to the players now.

"Batting is one of those up and down things; you can be in good form and stretch it out for as long as you can but you have got to stay balanced. You don't want to be up there and then go down there. 'Fill your boots,' Ken would say and he was a great, great man. 'Book in for bed and breakfast.'

"If you get to 50 make it 100, go on to 150 and then on to 200, because the next time you go in you might get that one which takes off and gloves you, caught behind. The next time you go in after that it might shoot along the deck so you've got two noughts. You'll be happy then with your 200 not out and not giving it away for 110 because you never know what's going to happen the next innings. When you get in, make it count."

Several of Gooch's charges are in a bit of trouble at present. The most obvious is Ian Bell, who has had a string of low scores this winter after a sublime Test year. But Andrew Strauss, the captain, needs runs as well.

"We have one-to-one chats but that's an ongoing thing," Gooch said. "I saw Ian Bell twice before we came out here, and obviously he came out a week early as well. He is having a little sticky patch but he has to remain mentally strong and he has to believe it will come right. Form can put you under pressure as a person; you have got to hold your nerve. Alastair Cook experienced it in 2010 and there aren't many players who don't experience it.

"If you're judging people on a few games – and it is more instant these days – it's quite difficult; someone is going to be under pressure all the time. Strauss is always under pressure; it's much easier being captain if you're doing the job with the bat because that is your main job, contributing runs to the team.

"Nothing is different for him than for the others. He has worked really hard. You can see little tweaks in the technique and it should pay dividends for him. It is always good to score runs as a captain. Opening the batting is a great place for a captain because you can set the tone, you can dictate the terms of the game; that's one of the great things."

With that, Gooch went off for a net with Alastair Cook. "I don't have favourites, but he's an Essex boy and he's everything you want in preparing to bat," he said.

Suggested Topics
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015