Sometimes there is a sameness to English cricketing history. Nearly four decades ago, England returned from Australia having been savaged by fast bowlers. The cry went up: out with the old and in with the new. In came a young opening batsman from Essex.
The summer of 1975 was Graham Gooch’s first taste of Test cricket. He drove his “battered little red Sunbeam Imp” to Edgbaston the day before the first Test of the summer, again against Australia. “I felt terribly uneasy,” he wrote years later. “Two-thirds [of the England team] had been playing Test cricket when I was at school.”
Yesterday a young man who had watched “the great man” bat while he was a schoolboy brought Gooch’s time with England to an end. After opening the batting, captaining the side and at times carrying it, advising its batsmen and then officially coaching them for hour after hour, pinging down ball after ball with his self-designed dog-thrower, Gooch met with Alastair Cook to be told he was being relieved of his position as England’s batting coach. Out with the old.
Cook decided it was down to him to deliver the news to his mentor, the man who has preached his creed of “daddy hundreds” to him time after time after time. They have history.
“It was tough telling a man who I used to go and queue up to get his autograph that it’s time to move on,” said Cook. “Everyone knows how close we are as friends and we’ve been through a lot together. So to make a decision on a guy who I have so much respect for was tough.”
Yesterday Cook told a story of how, ahead of a Test in Adelaide with temperatures in the mid-thirties, Gooch spent an age giving throwdowns to England’s batsmen. As the session ended he spotted Scott Borthwick and the Essex player Jaik Mickleburgh looking on.
They were nothing to do with the England party, having come to Australia to spend time at Darren Lehmann’s academy. It did not matter to Gooch. Come on, he urged the two youngsters, get your pads on and I’ll throw you some balls, and on he went.
Gooch’s experience in his first Test, where he was all but ignored by his team-mates, stayed with him and he has mentored a host of young batsmen, first with Essex and then England. He remains close to Cook on a personal and cricketing level, as well as Ian Bell and Matt Prior, and the 60-year-old will continue to work with them on an individual basis.
The sight of Gooch arriving at county grounds and plodding, with that yeoman trudge that belies his enduring (and endearing) enthusiasm for the game, towards the nets to help players tinker with technique or just practise, practise, practise – as he has done in the past week with Prior at Hove and Michael Carberry in Southampton – will not be lost to English cricket.
Cook and the incoming England coach, Peter Moores, want to stop picking over the smouldering ruins of the winter and move on. Yesterday, after being instructed in how to cook a Sri Lankan breakfast (hot and spicy apparently) at the Waitrose Cookery School, there were repeated mentions of fresh starts and freshening up.
There will be more changes to the staff with the position of Richard Halsall, the fielding coach, likely to be downgraded following Paul Farbrace’s arrival as Moores’ assistant.
Cook and Moores denied that Gooch, who has held the role of full-time batting coach since March 2012 having been a consultant since 2009, was a scapegoat for England’s batting failures in Australia – that’s very much Kevin Pietersen’s role – but it is well over a year since England went past 400 in a Test match.
In Australia this winter, England failed to reach 200 in six of their 10 innings and only made it to 300 twice. Even in last summer’s successful Ashes series, England’s highest total was 377.
England have failed to fill their boots – another favoured Goochism and one that recent generations of Essex batsmen no doubt mumble in their sleep – in the first innings, when control of a game is to be seized. Their first-innings scores in the last 10 Tests, all against Australia, have been 215, 361, 368, 238, 377, 136, 172, 251, 255, 155. Something is not working.
Gooch and Andy Flower were close, as former county colleagues, and with the Zimbabwean head coach gone, Gooch was well aware his time was running out. Where once there was an Essex triumvirate at the heart of England’s Test set-up, now there is only Cook – and there is a sense that the captain believes it is time for him to exert more of his own self on his side; from Essex boy with his protectors to England man standing on his own. He spoke yesterday of how he and Moores have discussed the new culture they want to bring to England.
Gooch has served England steadfastly and largely unselfishly for four decades. There is the black mark of the rebel tours to South Africa (English cricket has always been quick to paint over its questionable relationship with the apartheid regime) but otherwise he has given his all.
His dispatch, blindfold refused, to an extent summed up the man; Gooch sympathised with Cook over having to tell him his fate, talking of some of the tough decisions he had had to make during his time as England captain, such as dealing with David Gower, whose approach to the game was so much more carefree.
“He was disappointed,” said Cook, “then he went on to talk about understanding the decision and why I need to make strong decisions and how I can go on in my game and how England can go on. It was quite humbling.”
He will be replaced, with Graham Thorpe the favourite to combine his current one-day role with Test duties. When Cook was asked what they will be looking for in the new batting coach his first thoughts were telling.
“He needs to have Gooch’s energy and work ethic,” he said. “What he delivered to us as a side until the last little bit was we got massive scores, and that was Goochie talking about run-making, talking about ‘you’ve never got enough’, ‘Daddy hundreds’, you name it, it all came from Goochie.”