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Visiting racist South Africa in 1982-85, to this cricketer natural talent was above work ethic

By Harsh Thakor 

On July 23rd we celebrated the 70th birthday of former English opening batsman and captain, Graham Gooch. Graham Gooch in full flow manifested batting domination, in realms rarely surpassed. He may have lacked the finesse of a David Gower or solidity of Boycott but for sheer counter attacking ability, no English batsmen of his time was as mercurial.
At his best he could sit alongside Hobbs or Hutton Few batsman ever improved with age as Gooch. In the course of an innings, Gooch resembled a surgeon digging deeper and deeper into the skin of a patient. Rarely has an opening batsmen scaled such heights in combative spirit or made leap of such a spectacular scale, at such late stage of an international career. The dazzling cover drives, square cuts, hook and pull shots of Gooch, put fan son the edge of their seats. An unusually high backlift, did not hinder his ability to plunder runs. On his day, like Barry Richards and Greenidge, he literally peeled the skin of bowlers.
Few worked as profusely or more diligently on their game as Gooch, making the required technical adjustments. Very few batsmen, let alone openers handled express pace as valiantly. In times of adversity, few batsmen did what the doctor ordered, reminiscent of a surgeon performing an operation. Gooch was also an effective medium pace bowler, particularly in ODI’s, and a safe slip catcher. Overall, I remember Gooch for enjoying his cricket, as few ever did in the glorious game.

Career highlights

Gooch gained his baptism in first class cricket, playing for Essex in 1973, at the age of 19. Gooch started his international career as middle order batsmen in 1975 in Birmingham against Australia making a pair facing Lillee and Thomson. He scored sparking fifties against India at home in 1979, at Edgbaston and at the Oval. In Australia, in 1979-80, he came within a whisker of scoring his first century at Melbourne, before being run out by Kim Hughes.
Gooch came into his own in the home series against West Indies In 1980. I can never forget his enthralling strokeplay when scoring 123 at Lords and 83 at The Oval against the best ever pace attack. In my view, the latter knock was a classic in it’s own right. No batting feat was as challenging in that era as confronting the intimidatory pace of the West Indies bowling attack, which had the impact of a bomber plane.
In the Carribean in 1981, Gooch possibly overshadowed every English batsmen, on a West Indies tour. Facing the best ever pace attack of West Indies ever Graham Gooch unleashed counter attack at the highest intensity, scoring 153 out of a total of 285 at Kingston in the final test, of the 1981 series. Very rarely has the lightning pace of the deadly quartet been executed with more conviction, as Gooch did that day, reminiscent of a combing operation. The fiery pace of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft had not been dealt with as much contempt even by great batsman like Greg Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar. Every other English batsman was at sea with Gooch single-handedly carrying the fort. Rarely have the West Indies bowlers looked more hapless or received such a battering. Above all it was executed on the fastest wicket of Kingston. Gooch also scored a fine 116 at Barbados; Overall he averaged 57.40 scoring460 runs in that series.
In the home 1981 Ashes, Gooch was completely out of form, repeatedly succumbing to the swing of Terry Alderman. On the 1981-82 tour of India at Madras he took aggression to zones rarely travelled when scoring 120, in an exhibition of dazzling strokeplay. Gooch superbly executed footwork against spinners or the turning ball, proving he was also a great player of spin. He was consistency personified on that tour, averaging over 54.
In the 1985 home Ashes series, Gooch scored breathtaking 197, facing the likes of Geoff Lawson and Craig Mcdermott. In spite of England going down 4-0 in 1988 Gooch played 2 classic knocks in 1988 against a revived West Indies bowling attack. Malcolm Marshall was at his absolute best and Gooch counter attacked him like no one else. In the West Indies in 1986 Gooch scored an unbeaten match-winning 129, which ranks amongst the finest ODI innings ever. Arguably never had the great Calypso attack ever taken as much to the sword or demoralised in an ODI.
In 1986 although scoring 2 centuries in series against India and New Zealand, Gooch was inconsistent. He scored a fine 183 at Lords against the Kiwis and earlier 114 against India.Gooch was often undone by the seam movement of Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. In the 1987 Reliance World cup Gooch scored cavalier 115 in the semi-final against India at Bombay. In the tournament, he topped the batting aggregate.
In 1988 against West Indies at home, facing Marshall at his best .Gooch averaged 45.90, scoring 459 runs, including a 146 at Leeds. On the 1986 and 1990 tours of West Indies he only gave occasional flashes of his earlier brilliance in 1981, being rarely at his best. He averaged 27.60 in 1986 and 42.66 in 1990. In the 1989 home Ashes,Gooch virtually capitulated to the late swing of Terry Alderman, looking completely at sea. He averaged around 20 runs.
In 1990 in England in a series against India Gooch resembled an invincible emperor, amassing a record 752 runs, a record for a 3 test series, including a 333 at Lords. His triple hundred was monumental, taking 485 deliveries with 3 sixes and 43 boundaries, reminding one of climbing an unscaled peak. Cricketing skill and domination was manifested in domains rarely penetrated. In the 2nd innings at Lords he raced like hare to score123 of mere 113 balls. His match aggregate of 456 constituted a test record. The likes of Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton did not transcend such superlative statistical zones, in a single series, nor Geoff Boycott.
In 1991 at Leeds Gooch scaled heights in batting prowess and courage rarely transcended in cricket, against a powerful West Indies bowling attack .He scored a match-winning 154 out of a total of 252, resurrecting his country from depths of despair to achieve a glorious victory. The ferocious West Indies pacemen kept clawing back at him but Gooch replied in a most merciless manner, like a counter attack of an army battalion giving a crushing blow to the enemy. Very rarely in cricket has a course of game been as dictated by a single batsman as here. Gooch reminded a fan of digging a borewell or farming in a desert .Arguably amongst the 5 best test match innings of all time. Late John Woodcock ranked it the best ever post-war test innings he saw by an England captain. In the series overall he averaged 48.38 and scored 480 runs.
In 1992 at Headingley against Pakistan, he scored classical, match-winning 135, in seamer-friendly conditions and facing a precarious task,to win a game for England. One of the finest displays of batting, facing the duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus,arguably the most lethal pace bowling pair ,ever. Gooch also scored 69 at Lords and 78 at Manchester, in most articulate fashion. Overall he averaged exactly 48 in that series, scoring 480 runs.
From 1993 to 1995 he gave only occasional flashes of his greatness when scoring 210 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge and centuries in the home Ashes in 1993, scoring 133 at Manchester and 120 at Leeds. Gooch made no impact on the 3 test tour of India in 1992-93.In the 1993 home Ashes he was consistency personified, scoring 673 runs at an average of 56.08 Regretfully Gooch played in 3 world cup finals, but all in a losing cause.

Evaluation

If you weigh his first class record Gooch has to be classed with the all-time great batsmen. Gooch scored a staggering 44846 runs at an average of 49.01 with 128 centuries. In ODI’s Gooch amassed 4290 runs at an average of 36.98. In test cricket Gooch amassed 8900 runs at an average of 42.58 with 20 centuries, in 118 tests and 215 innings.
Gooch also had 23 wickets at 46.47 in tests and 36 scalps at 42.11 in ODI games. Overall he took 103 catches in tests and 45 in ODI’s. Overall, in terms of aggregate in all forms of cricket, Gooch is at the very top. He has staggering a figure of 170 hundreds and 67,057 runs, at an average of 45.81. I personally label Gooch as 'all-time great' when you assess the attacks and situations in which he amassed the bulk of his runs. As a captain Gooch averaged a remarkable 58.72, scoring 3582 runs. Compares favourably with the all-time great batsmen as captains. In contrast when not skipper, he averaged 35.82.amassing 5,318 runs.
In test matches won Gooch averaged 52.73, scoring 9 centuries and 5594 runs, which is impressive. As a skipper he led England in 34 test matches, to 10 wins and 12 defeats. No English batsman was more prolific in the shorter version in his time with Gooch topping the averages in the 1987 Reliance world cup, executing some cavalier match winning knocks. Technically Gooch was not as adept as Greenidge, but as productive as a stroke maker.
Facing express pace I would rank Gooch amongst the top ten batsmen of all time and best opening batsman of all. I maintain against express pace he was the best opening batsman of his era and arguably of all time. I must mention that the great Sunil Gavaskar scored most of his centuries against West Indies facing the weaker attacks and scored only three of his thirteen centuries against them facing the great quartet.Gooch has more centuries and fifties against the top West Indies pace quartet.Greenidge never had to face the bowlers of his own team and not at his best down under.
Gooch tackled top spin bowling as though they were slow bowlers, punishing them with ridiculous contempt. The best centuries of Gooch rank amongst the best ever in test cricket, let alone against West Indies, scored amidst the going at it’s heaviest. In the 1980's Gooch in my view, would be selected as an opener in my world test XI.
It is significant that Gooch scored 859 runs and averaged over 41 in tests the Caribbean from 1980-91, the highest batting average and aggregate by any overseas opening batsmen and above 48 overall against West Indies in the same period. After being appointed as captain, Gooch made a metamorphosis to his batting approach and style, taking fewer risks, playing more percentages and nullifying his destructivity.
Cricket writer Patrick Murphy tagged Gooch with the ‘All-time great’ batsmen, who scored over 100 centuries. Since Jack Hobbs, in first class cricket, no batsman ever scored as many centuries or was equally prolific after the age of 36 or in the latter half of his career. Since the War no batsmen ever equalled the determination of Graham Gooch, to resurrect his career, at such late stage. After the age of 36, Gooch played 45 tests, averaging 51.55 and scoring 12 centuries. In the 2nd decade of his career, he averaged 57.44, scoring 22,348 runs.
After age of forty, Gooch score 7372 runs, at an average of 51.19, with 25 centuries. Worth pointing out that compared to the era of Gooch, careers of greats, like Jack Hobbs and W G Grace after they entered their forties, were physically less arduous or took the toll out of the system to a lesser degree. Arguably I would place Gooch as the best English batsmen, since Len Hutton.
Overall I would rank Gooch only behind Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Barry Richards and Sunil Gavaskar as an opening batsman and overall amongst the 30 best batsmen of all time. To me even a whisker may not separate Gooch with West Indian maestro Gordon Greenidge. Cristopher martin Jenkins ranks Gooch amongst the 45 best cricketers of all time, ahead of even likes of Ricky Ponting ,Javed Miandad and Alan Border, which in my view, is gross misjudgement. Geoff Armstrong ranks him in 83d place.
I recommend readers to read the essays of Patrick Murphy in ‘The Centurions’ and Henry Blofeld in ‘Cricket’s great entertainers, which are classical pieces in portraying Gooch. I was astonished that while selecting all-time test teams Richard Sydenham’s compilation, not a single cricketer chose Graham Gooch, as an opener, in spite of many vouching for Gordon Greenidge.

Flaws

Gooch tarnished his reputation by joining the rebel tour of racist South Africa during 1982-85 when he faced an international ban. He did sport a great discredit by morally promoting apartheid, pursuing the lure for money. The dispute which entangled Gooch and David Gower from the start of the 1990s adversely affected the fortunes or morale of English cricket. Possibly Gooch was intolerant to those who adopted a more liberal philosophy, or placed natural talent above work ethic.
Gooch's career was plagued with inconsistency, unlike Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott or Gordon Greenidge. He was not at his best against fast-medium bowling and was repeatedly a bunny of Terry Alderman in 1981 and 1989 as well as Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee in 1986. In or against Australia his averaged around 33, hardly making consistent impact. Gooch missed quite a few tours as well as home series like against Pakistan in 1987 or in Australia in 1986-87.On the 1986 and 1990 tours of West Indies he only gave only occasional flashes of his earlier brilliance in 1981.
As a captain although he led his side to drawn rubber against West Indies at home in 1991,he was led England to defeats in the Ashes at home in 1993 and down under in 1994-95 , lost a series at home against Pakistan in 1992 and also led England to a 3-0 defeat in India in 1992-93.He could be two authoritarian or bureaucratic, at junctures., over imposing discipline.

After Retirement

From 2009, Gooch took on the job as batting coach and selector .He was successful in enabling England to resurrect it’s feet or rank at the top of the pedestal in International cricket, from 2010-2012, with triumphs in an Ashes series overseas and on an Indian tour. After England’s Ashes defeat in 2013-14 he forfeited his post. He came back with bang with a fitting finale as a team coach in the 2019 cricket world cup, guiding England to it’s maiden triumph.
In his career Gooch rated Malcolm Marshall as the best bowler he faced, Barry Richards as the best batsman he ever saw and Ian Botham, the best all-rounder of his era.. However he still chose Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards in his all-time XI as well as Wasim Akram , Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad.
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Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Thanks information from chapter in ‘The Centurions ‘by Patrick Murphy and The ‘100 Cricket’s Greatest’ by Geoff Armstrong

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