Graham Gooch, born July 23, 1953, is England’s leading run-scorer in Test cricket and a successful captain of the national team and Essex county. Jaideep Vaidya tries to summarise a mammoth career of a prolific run-scorer who broke a number of records in a near 30-year professional career.
If you were given the rather impossible and unfair task of picking the highlights of Graham Gooch’s awesome career, you could say it was down to a couple of doubles: the pair he got on Test debut in 1975 and the two centuries (including a triple hundred) he scored in one Test match against India in 1990. But then again, that is very unjust on a man who would go on to become England’s leading run-scorer off all time — 8900 runs, a record which stands to date — and also one of the most prolific run-accumulators in top-level cricket that the world has ever seen.
You cannot even say that Gooch was the most successful batsman of his generation, simply because his First-Class career transcended generations. From what began in 1973 playing for Essex, the immortal Gooch carried his bat right until the turn of the millennium, till 2000, when he was 47-years old.
“I literally thought Graham Gooch was going to play cricket for England forever,” wrote Sir Ian Botham in My Sporting Heroes, a few years ago. “When I started my career he was playing cricket for England, when I finished my career he was playing cricket for England and each time I pick up a microphone to commentate these days, I half expect to see Andrew Strauss walking out to bat with “Goochie” and not his Essex protégé Alastair Cook. I reckon Alastair has to beat “Goochie” off with his bat to stop him from getting out before him.”In his near three-decade cricketing career, Gooch amassed an astronomical figure of 67,057 runs across First-Class (44,846) and List A (22,211) matches. Compare it to the princely figure (61,237) of Sir Jack Hobbs, considered the most prolific batsmen of all time, and perhaps you can get an idea of what Gooch was. Also, Gooch remains the only player to record 2,000 or more runs in a season five times since 1969 (1984, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1993).
If judged on purely an international scale, Gooch’s 8,900 runs at 42.58 in 118 Tests is unmatched by any Englishman to date. At one stage, he was the third-highest run-getter of all time behind Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar, before being overtaken by the next generation of superstars with their thicker and heavier bats and fancy equipment. If Christopher Martin-Jenkins was to be believed, Gooch had people fooled with his blade, which couldn’t seem to stop smacking the ball like it were a beach ball. Gooch was “a bold and imposing player, a mighty driver and fierce square-cutter, who looked at the crease to be taller and bulkier than he usually was, with a bat apparently broader than the law permits,” Christopher Martins-Jenkins wrote in Wisden.
Gooch was an imposing presence at the batting crease. Tall, with a burly frame and a handlebar moustache that appeared post 1974 and disappeared only after he had retired from all forms after intimidating bowlers across the world, Gooch batted with an unorthodox high backlift and left elbow that seemed to dare the bowler and say, ‘Come on, put it wherever you want and see where I put it.’ However, everything else about his batting was right out of the manual: the back thrust towards square-leg and the head right above the left shoulder, eyes staring at the bowler in anticipation. He was both aggressive and textbook in his strokeplay and could murder the bowling attack with nonchalance.
While he was adept against spin bowling, his best qualities came out against the quicker men. In his 20-year international career spanning 1975–1995, Gooch was up against the best of bowlers from at least two generations. If at the beginning of his career it was Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Richard Hadlee and Malcolm Marshall, towards the latter half of his career Gooch was facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. And rather than getting bullied by these dangerous, world-class bowlers, Gooch welcomed the challenge with open arms. “I always used to want a challenge and always wanted to face the best. I wasn’t one of those players who would want Curtly Ambrose or Wasim Akram not to play,” Gooch said, as quoted in David Fulton’s The Captain’s Tales: Battle for The Ashes.
Early life and career
Gooch was born in Whipps Cross, Leytonstone, in Essex and got interested in cricket after watching his father Alf, who used to play for East Ham Corinthians. According to Gooch, his dad and Essex coach Bill Morris were the biggest influence upon his career. While Gooch was studying at Norlington Junior High School, he joined the highly-respected Ilford club and made his way to the first team. In those days, Gooch used to bat in the middle-order and wanted to become a wicketkeeper-batsman. However, it was all to change once he got called up to make his debut for the Essex Second XI against Northamptonshire in 1969. Three years later, he was selected for the England Young Cricketers’ tour of the West Indies. Apart from his hard-hitting batting, Gooch also bowled a decent medium-pace and helped Essex win the Second XI championship for the first time in 1973.
After making his First-Class debut for Essex in 1973, Gooch was selected in the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) side that took on the touring Australians in 1975 prior to The Ashes. Walking in to bat with his side at a precarious 11 for three, the 21-year-old Gooch hit a gritty 75 and shared a valuable century partnership with David Lloyd. He impressed one and all, and fearlessly tackled the Aussie pace attack comprising Lillee and Thomson, as he blazed them through the covers and lofted them for maximums. On July 10, 1975, Gooch was to be rewarded for his heroics with a Test debut in The Ashes opener at Edgbaston. The inclusion caused much interest before the series. The Canberra Times wrote: “For English supporters the form of 21-year-old Essex batsman Graham Gooch will be the main point of interest. They will be anxious to see if he can provide the English batting with that touch of class it so desperately needs.” To say that it was a buzzkill would be an understatement.
Gooch ended up registering a pair: ‘c Rod Marsh b Max Walker 0′ and ‘c Rod Marsh b Jeff Thomson 0′. He was given another chance in the next Test at Lord’s, but could only manage six and 31. He was booted from the team post the second flop show. “My worst fears were confirmed,” he wrote in Gooch: My Autobiography. “Although I was very disappointed in learning that I had been dropped, I was not suicidal. I was picked to score some runs and I had not come up with any; end of story.”
It took him three years to make a return to the playing XI, in the second Test against Pakistan at Lord’s in the summer of 1978. He hit a polished 54 at Lord’s and two more half-centuries against New Zealand that summer, and did not look back. According to him, the turning point came when he was entrusted with opening the innings in 1978. “The extra responsibility served to inject extra discipline into his game — and confidence began to flow,” it was written in Wisden, in their profile of Gooch after naming him Cricketer of the Year in 1980.
South African rebel tour
In 1982, Gooch came to be associated with one of the murkiest affairs to ever hit English cricket when he led a team of 12 cricketers, who were initially labelled ‘The Dirty Dozen’ by the media and the Houses of Parliament, to a short tour of pre-Apartheid South Africa. The touring party included 11 Test cricketers including Geoff Boycott, Alan Knott, Dennis Amiss, Derek Underwood, Chris Old, Mike Hendrick, Peter Willey, Wayne Larkins, John Lever and John Emburey apart from Gooch, who was, by no choice of his, made captain. The two uncapped players were Les Taylor and Geoff Humpage. Soon, they came to be known as ‘Gooch’s Rebels’, and were banned from playing for England for three years for their stunt.
Gooch put the decision to embark on the tour down to being “disillusioned” and “boredom” after a depressing tour of India in 1981-82. He needed a break, and when sponsors from South Africa approached him to play in the apartheid-ridden country, offering a rather handsome sum as a fee, it was an offer hard to turn down. While he knew that the erstwhile Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) and the government back home would not in any way support his decision, he admitted to underestimating the implications. “I was not naive enough to imagine the cricket authorities would be beside themselves with joy,” Gooch wrote in his memoir about the tour, Out of the Wilderness. “I was, however, naive enough to think that the tour would be treated on its merits as a sporting venture, not a political issue. I was wrong.”
Gooch’s rebels were soon to be banned for three years — a decision that took all of them by shock. While many players of the touring party were nearing the fag end of their careers, there were others like Emburey, Taylor and Gooch himself who were pitied for having jeopardised their fledgling careers. With his tremendous record achieved sans the three years in wilderness, it amazes you as to what Gooch could have achieved had he been given the chance to play for those three years. However, reflecting upon the episode later, Gooch said that he had no regrets and did nothing wrong, although he admitted that he missed everything related with playing for England. “‘No regrets’ might now be my motto, because in truth I do not think the sentence has harmed me, however much I may sometimes have missed the adrenalin, the atmosphere and the unsurpassed sense of pride which only a Test match can provide for a cricketer,” he wrote. “In my own mind I am convinced I did nothing wrong, that my actions were right for my mood and my circumstances at the time and that, if political considerations had not been paramount, the cricket authorities of this country would probably have been more supportive than savage in their pronouncements on the matter.”
After serving the entirety of his ban, Gooch returned to the England team for the 1985 Ashes, where he went on to score half-centuries at Nottingham and Manchester, and a 196 at The Oval as England won 3-1. A five-match tour of the West Indies followed where he scored four fifties, followed by hundreds against India and New Zealand at home. During the musical chairs of English captaincy in 1988, he was the fourth of “the summer of five captains” as England went on trial-and-error to find a suitable leader. Finally, after trying out Mike Gatting, Emburey, Colin Cowdrey, Gooch himself, and Pringle, he got the job permanently after David Gower’s sacking following a disastrous Ashes series. For lesser mortals, taking charge of a team down in the doldrums would be like signing a death warrant. But for the 36-year-old Gooch, it was only a springboard to success.
Along with Gooch as captain, Micky Stewart was appointed coach of England as the selectors decided to start afresh. Gower was laidback in his approach, while Gooch was the polar opposite, always hands-on and in-your-face. You could say Gooch had had enough of Gower’s languid approach and wanted to change this around the dressing room. He felt he was given the job for the exact purpose. “I was given a steer by the selectors that they didn’t want David or Ian Botham,” Gooch said in Fulton’s book. “David did brilliantly in 1985 but struggled in 1989. Micky and I started to take the team in a new direction. It was the beginning of a new era.”
As Gooch set into his captaincy, his greatest advantage was that he was able to manage the dual roles of leadership and batsmanship superbly. This was evident from his record as captain: Of the 8,900 runs he scored in his Test career, 3,582 of them came as captain at an average of 58.72. As only a player, he scored 5,318 runs at only 35.93. “It drove me forward in terms of the way I prepared for batting and the way I approached my cricket,” said Gooch. “I inherited the England captaincy having already come through this bad patch. I was playing well and I think the extra responsibility helped. I didn’t give my wicket away as easily and I avoided making silly errors. I was suddenly capitalising on every opportunity and going on to score big runs, match-winning runs.” Gooch was influenced greatly by Keith Fletcher, his skipper at Essex, and Mike Brearley, both former England captains. “Keith Fletcher was brilliant tactically so I had a good grounding there, while Brears [Brearley] was an excellent man-manager, very popular with his players and got the best out of them. You learnt part of the art of captaincy through playing under those guys.”
By nature and habit, and perhaps consequences, Gooch was a very hard-working player who was never afraid of pushing himself to the limit. Because of his portly physique, he had taken it upon himself to try his best to keep in shape and had to work even harder than others to do so. In fact, Botham, when captain, had even banned Gooch from going on a jog in the morning during a tour, because he wanted his players fresh on the field. However, Gooch was a pea from a completely different pod. He was a hard taskmaster and believed the right dose of professionalism would suit the team. While he always meant for the better of the team, his methods did lead to quite a few misunderstandings, particularly due to his ‘one size fits all’ approach, as termed by Nasser Hussain. According to Botham, Gooch’s dictatorial approach with regard to fitness of the squad cost England the 1992 World Cup. However, others like Alec Stewart, sympathised with Gooch: “He’d let it be known that if you didn’t reach the levels that he expected then he’d come down on you. He led by example but struggled with some senior players who didn’t buy into his work ethic, his outlook on the game and how you should be preparing.”
Gooch was later to admit his shortcomings. “I expected my players to do things similarly to me and give the same level of commitment off the field in terms of training and preparation. It was something I was big on and I expected people to buy in to it and I got frustrated and irritated if people didn’t do it — which was a failing on my part, looking back.” However, this takes nothing from the fact that he was a great captain and managed to evolve as a player due to his leadership. A classic case in example is the Lord’s Test of 1990 against India, where Gooch entered the record books.
Scoring a century in either innings of a Test match is no mean feat. In the summer of 1990, Gooch went crazy at Lord’s as he bludgeoned 333 against Mohammad Azharuddin’s Indians; England amassed 653 for four in the first innings, after being put in to bat by the visitors. Gooch, opening the batting, was dropped on 36 by wicketkeeper Kiran More, and made the Indians pay for their lapse as he went on to occupy the crease for 627 minutes and consumed 485 deliveries in his epic, which included a ridiculous 43 fours and three sixes. It was the highest score at Lord’s, the third highest by an Englishman in Tests and sixth highest overall at the time. Asked about how he celebrated, Gooch was as passive as ever in his response and said there was “no tap-dancing on the table. I wasn’t going to destroy my reputation among the media people for being a dour old misery-guts.” When asked at the press conference how he felt, he said, “Okay, I suppose.” However, in his autobiography, he described his 333 as among the best innings he had played.
Gooch wasn’t done as he went on to hit another century in the second essay, scoring 123 in just 113 balls, including four sixes and 13 fours. In the entire match, he batted for 775 minutes — almost 13 hours — and faced two short of 598 deliveries — almost 100 overs. He hit a total of 56 fours and seven sixes and scored a total of 456 runs in the match, which is a record unmatched (Australia’s Mark Taylor came close in against Pakistan in Peshawar 1998-99, scoring 334 not out and 92 — a total of 426 runs). Gooch scored another century (116) in the next Test at Manchester, and followed it up with 85 and 88 at The Oval, making it 752 runs at 125.33 in the three Tests. He went on to score 1,058 runs in the 1990 season — a record that stands — and 1,264 runs for the calendar year.
However, in terms of sheer effectiveness, no knock of Gooch’s comes close to his unbeaten 154 against the West Indies on a seamer-friendly wicket at Headingley in 1991. England had scored just 198 in the first innings, before bowling the Windies out for 173. In the second essay, with Gooch stationed at one end, England lost wickets regularly at the other, save for a brief resistance from Mark Ramprakash and Pringle. The West Indies fearsome foursome of Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh were charged up and bowling fiery spells; Ambrose was even on a hat-trick twice in the innings. Gooch, however, remained unbeaten and carried his bat on to 154, scoring 61 per cent of England’s runs as the hosts were bowled out for 252. Gooch’s efforts were rewarded with England going on to win the Test by 115 runs and took a lead in the five-match series.
Botham, in his book Botham’s Century: My 100 Great Cricketing Characters, said it was “as near to the perfect captain’s innings as you could get.” John Woodcock wrote in The Times, “Since the Second World War, no innings by an England captain has surpassed Gooch’s. It stands out, not for artistic merit, but for skill and courage against a very formidable attack in awkward conditions at a crucial time.” Robin Marlar, writing for the Sunday Times, said, “Carrying his bat for 154 in a total of 252 puts Gooch on a pedestal above anything he or any of his contemporaries have done. Church bells have been run and sermons preached for less. At least we can put the man’s name in lights. Which is more than Gooch himself will have been doing, and in that modesty he shares one of the principal characteristics of another England batsman, Jack Hobbs, The Master.”
Gooch retired from international cricket in 1995, aged 42, as England’s leading run-scorer in Tests. In 2000, he hung up his county boots as well after scoring 44,846 First-Class runs and hitting 128 centuries — one of only 25 batsmen in the history of the game to score a ton of First-Class tons. After retiring as a player, Gooch worked as head coach of Essex, beginning in 2001 and stayed there till 2005, before continuing as just a specialist batting coach. In 2009, he quit all Essex duties after being appointed as England’s batting consultant, a job which was to permanently become his in 2012. At the time of writing, Gooch continues to be the head batting coach of the England cricket team. Even at 60 years of age, it is impossible to keep him away from the game.
In Shane Warne’s Century: My Top 100 Test Cricketers, the Australian spin legend, who played against Gooch in the early nineties, wrote: “Graham Gooch was the English equivalent of our Allan Border, and that is almost the highest praise I can give to a cricketer.” Botham, who had his differences with Gooch, wrote: “I have the highest possible regard for what Graham achieved as a player. For most of his captaincy of England he was the batting.”