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'I don't coach batting, I coach run-making'

Graham Gooch on batting, Boycott, Barrington, "daddy-hundreds", and mentoring the current crop of record-breakers

Interview by Jo Harman

August 13, 2013

Comments: 13 | Text size: A | A

Graham Gooch speaks at an England press conference on England's tour of Sri Lanka, Ahungalla, March 30, 2012
Gooch: "If you get a hundred, get a big one" © Getty Images
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"If Goochie's not around, I'm buggered." These were the words of Alastair Cook in an interview with AOC almost two years ago. It was an off-the-cuff remark, and no doubt overly modest, but it was telling nonetheless and indicative of the influence the old grandmaster continues to have today.

It's no exaggeration to describe Graham Gooch as the most influential English cricketer of the post-war era. In a career spanning four decades he scored more runs than anyone in the history of the game, and in retirement he's continued to churn them out vicariously: as first Essex and now England's batting coach. He is an essential link in the chain from the great Ken Barrington (who schooled Gooch in the art of batsmanship in the late1970s), to Geoffrey Boycott (a profound influence in both his early and late career), right through to the present day as Cook, Pietersen and Bell continue to benefit from his wealth of knowledge while setting about rewriting the English record books.

The techniques have changed, the bats are bigger and the strike-rates have rocketed, but the principles of batsmanship, as taught to Gooch by Barrington, still hold true. "Ken Barrington was a great father figure and mentor," Gooch tells AOC. "Not only did he give technical advice, he also gave you 'the knowledge', and that's something I try and impart on the players now - 'the knowledge' of how to score runs. I don't coach batting, I coach run-making. It's about how you think about yourself, how you glean information about different conditions, how you concentrate for long periods."

The most priceless piece of advice hammered home to Gooch is one that he continually drums into the current crop of England's batsmen. "Kenny impressed upon me the importance of not being satisfied with reaching a milestone, to go on and on and get a big hundred. You never know what's going to happen next innings; you might get a good delivery, you might get a poor decision, you might get a ball that shoots along the deck. If you get a hundred, get a big one. A big hundred for me is over 150 - that's what we term a 'daddy hundred'."

It's a well-worn cliché but it's one that appears to breed results. In the four years since Gooch returned to the national fold as batting coach, England's batsmen have converted 34% of their centuries into "daddies", compared to 21% in the four years previous.

So when Gooch was walking back to the pavilion having made, say, 105 in a Test match, he was disappointed in himself for not "kicking on"?

"Absolutely. Yes. As Kenny used to tell me, the first 50 is the most difficult; you've got to get through that vulnerable period, you've got to get into your rhythm, you've got to get the pace of the wicket. The second 50 you should be 'in your game': moving well, seeing it nicely, and just keeping your game going. From then on it should just get easier and generally the only one that gets you out at that stage is yourself."

Gooch lost a friend and tutor when Barrington died suddenly of a heart attack during the 1981 tour of West Indies, but his opening partner at the time offered another great source of inspiration.

"I batted with Boycott for pretty much four years from '78 to '82. He was a fantastic technician and had brilliant knowledge of concentration and how to go about getting big hundreds. I had one of the best seats in the house 22 yards away from him. A smart player tries to take things from people's games. Not everything, but you might be able to take one or two things to introduce to your game to make you a better player.

"Ten years later Geoffrey helped me again when I had some technical problems in 1989, highlighted by Terry Alderman, but generally over that period of time my game was not as I would have liked it. Geoffrey helped me find slight alterations to my technique to get it back to where it was 10 years earlier and then I had the most profitable part of my Test career, from about 1990 until I retired in 1995." With his remodelled technique Gooch averaged 51.55 in his last five years of Test cricket, compared to 42.58 overall.

When Gooch's protégé Cook experienced similar technical difficulties in 2009-10 and needed to re-jig his back-lift and simplify his trigger movements to avoid planting his front foot and nicking off, the words of Boycott were no doubt still ringing in his ears as he gave counsel.

"I have no problem with Twenty20 as a format but it does impact on the other cricket. Twenty20 will breed multi-purpose cricketers who do a bit of both and that could definitely see skills eroded"

Cook underwent three hour-and-a-half sessions each week with Gooch in Chelmsford during the off-season and, just as Boycott's expertise helped spark an Indian summer for Gooch, armed with a sturdier technique the Essex southpaw took his game to heights which few had thought possible. "He's almost worked as hard as me at changing my technique," said Cook at the time. "He saw slightly different trigger moments and a slightly different back-lift and it takes a while to fix." But fix it he did, and as Cook went on to rack up the most runs by an Englishman in an Ashes series since Wally Hammond in 1928-29, the lineage of English batsmanship was clearly traceable.

Batting is Gooch's life's work. He lives and breathes it. While a cult of personality has developed around his former opening partner that exists outside of his feats with the bat - the Panama hat, the stick of rhubarb quips, the parody Twitter account - when you think of Graham Gooch, you think of batting, you think of run-scoring, you think of "daddy hundreds". Not much material for a parody to work with.

Gooch's fanatical work ethic and unflinching drive for self-improvement didn't always sit too well with his team-mates during his playing career and he famously clashed with David Gower, among others, for not sharing his relentless dedication. Gooch would often be seen pounding the streets of Chelmsford after a county match, "warming down" by running home. At times his sergeant-major approach became a source of angst and ridicule but in many ways the game has caught up with Gooch.

The forensic analysis to batting technique, the role of sport psychology, the advancements in fitness and nutrition; as the majority of his peers took a more laissez-faire attitude, all these factors were essential to Gooch's understanding of the overall package that makes a top-class cricketer and these are now essential components of modern coaching. Gooch is in his element in his current role as England's batting coach and his determination to leave no stone unturned is perhaps his greatest quality. His attitude is certainly mirrored in his charges, and in Cook in particular.

Personal coaches are commonplace these days but Gooch was one of the very first players to take one on. Alan Lilley, a team-mate at Essex, would travel to England matches with Gooch and when team practice was over Lilley would step in to continue the training as everyone else went home.

"He helped me a lot in that period towards the end of my England career," says Gooch. "It's not for everyone but I'm telling you now, if I was still playing I'd have one. I'm not saying the help players get isn't good enough but each individual has to make their own decisions and the one thing that you need to do in professional sport is be absolutely confident that when you walk over that white line you've done everything you possibly can to be ready to do your job."

It's a mantra that served Gooch well. In a 20-year Test career he racked up 8,900 runs - the highest tally by an Englishman - and scored 20 centuries against some of the finest bowling attacks ever to grace the game, including five centuries against the great West Indian quicks. In 1990, against India, he became the fifth Englishman to score a Test triple-century, before scoring a ton in the second innings to break the record for the most runs scored in a Test match.

Alastair Cook acknowledges the applause after reaching his half-century, England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day, August 3, 2013
Alastair Cook, according to Gooch, can get even better © Getty Images

Talking about personal achievements and individual innings isn't really Gooch's bag, though, and it's hard work getting him to open up on his own career highlights. "Look, it's difficult to say. One thing I would say is, it's nice to be remembered as someone worth watching; I'd like to think I entertained people on the way. You don't bat particularly for personal milestones - what's important is your performance and your contribution to winning matches. That's the thing you should remember as a sportsman, not the personal gratification. So my big scores at Lord's, the 300, and the 154 at Headingley [against West Indies] are personally satisfying because they helped us win matches."

Gooch is much more comfortable talking about the achievements of his charges than his own feats and he springs back into life when discussing the "fantastically talented players" he's working with. Statistics support his assessment. Alastair Cook has already surpassed the record number of Test centuries scored by an Englishman and is on target to pass Gooch's run tally within two years.

Kevin Pietersen, on 23 Test tons, has overtaken Hammond, Boycott and Cowdrey, two ahead of the recently retired Andrew Strauss and two ahead of Ian Bell. Jonathan Trott boasts a Test average superior to every English batsman since Barrington. With seven Test tons and an average in the mid-40s, Matt Prior's record eclipses that of any English stumper before him. And then you have Joe Root, who at the age of 22 already has several hundred Test runs to his name.

So are we looking at a golden age of English batting? "It's hard to say, we've got some wonderful players with different skill sets, different types of players, and they make a very, very formidable challenge for the bowling side. Generally in cricket you want variety, you want contrasting players that present different challenges: if possible you want a left-hand, right-hand combination at the top of the order and you want grafting and grinding players mixed in with some expansive stroke-makers.

"It's a bit like having a swing bowler, a tall fast bowler who hits the deck, a left-armer and an offspinner in your bowling attack. You don't always get that, it depends on the personnel, but ideally you do, and I think England possess that at the moment. If you look at Pietersen, Prior, Bell, Bairstow, they're gifted stroke-makers. Then you've got Trott and Cook, who are talented players in their own way, but they get their runs slightly differently. That's not saying that one way is better than the other, because you need both, and that's what we've got at the moment."

And what of Cook? Can he take his game to even greater heights? "Well, he can get more runs! Look, every player is evolving until the day he hangs up his gloves and bat. He's a fantastic talent, he has a very strong mind and he has a very strong will to succeed in terms of how he works on his game. He has a formula for scoring runs in Test cricket. Can he get better? Yeah, sure he can. He can enhance his game.

"You only have to look at what he did over the winter in India… Did you see the second over of the last Test in Nagpur? The field they set for him? [Pragyan] Ojha had a long on, a deep midwicket, a deep square leg and two men on the perch of midwicket, like short midwicket. Remember this is the seventh ball of a Test match! It was an unbelievable field placing, they had no idea how to get him out. The only thing they could do was to stop him scoring, to bore him basically. You know Alastair's not a Kevin Pietersen who's going to take an attack apart but through his sheer weight of runs and skill in his planning, they didn't have any idea. That's a testament to his hard work. So yes, he can get better. The best period for most Test batsmen is 25 to 35 and he's right in the middle of that period."

Gooch finishes up by voicing his concerns that the art of batsmanship, as taught to him by Barrington, might be lost over time; that the growth of Twenty20 could impact upon Test cricket to the point that clearing the ropes comes at the cost of technique and the patience required to build "daddy hundreds" deserts modern-day batsmen.

"I have no problem with Twenty20 as a format but it does impact on the other cricket," he says. "Twenty20 will breed multi-purpose cricketers who do a bit of both and that could definitely see skills eroded. Whether it will pan out that way, we don't know. But it's a real concern."

It's a sobering thought and one that clearly plays on his mind. But for the time being at least, there appears to be no danger of the principles of English batsmanship being lost, with Gooch keeping watch and his protégé only too willing to take up the baton.

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of All Out Cricket magazine. For more from this month's All Out Cricket, read Sarah Taylor's exclusive interview on the eve of the Women's Ashes

© All Out Cricket

Posted by   on (August 14, 2013, 2:00 GMT)

Nice article, but belonging to the category of pieces which appear when going is good, to be forgotten once situation changes. With all his tenacity and run making, Gooch was certainly a valuable player, but no body in his right mind would wake up at 3 am to watch him scoring a daddy hundred due to his dour style....give me a polished and stylish 40 of Gower any day. And Gooch is even better batsman than Richards, Gavaskar and G Chappell in their prime? I haven't heard a bigger joke than this since famous Bill Lawrie remark about S Waugh in 1998: "Here comes the best batsman in the world"!

Posted by Jonathan_E on (August 13, 2013, 20:31 GMT)

Let us not also forget that Gooch's best county form actually came during the three years while he was banned - having had a poor start to his test career, far worse in fact than the much-maligned Hick, with no hundreds till his 22nd test. He was just getting going in Test cricket (two fine series, with three centuries and some fifties too, against the Windies in 1980-1, and a decent tour of India in 1981-2, although horrible in the 1981 Ashes) when he went on the rebel tour.

Posted by Mittaraghava on (August 13, 2013, 13:50 GMT)

This interveiw in one of the best i read in the recent times.I have seen Ken Barrington tour India in the 1960's,he was a rock,it looked as if he never wanted to get out.3 centuries in the first 3 tests .Barrington, had the patience to wait for26 overs without scoring ,waiting for the bad ball,as a result Nadkarni bowled 26 consective maiden overs.It was described that when eve Barrington came out to bat,he had the England flag flying in front of him.Then no doubt Gooch had come from that stylel of batting school.Similarly batting style was Boycott,plod and plod and plod to score centuries.Once he was dropped from the team for scoring a century at a snail pace.The difference is that the present day cricketers like Cook,Trott and Bell have imbibed the tenacity from Gooch but they have in addition the fluent stroke play needed to suit present day cricket.Indeed Gooch has played his role in making the English players score "Daddy Hundreds".Gower had great batting style,poise and elegence

Posted by SDH12 on (August 13, 2013, 13:09 GMT)

Interesting this, as I think it's worth pointing out that since he joined the coaching staff full time in the UAE England's batting has gone downhill. All this talk of daddy hundreds, yet England have only scored 5 of 150+ since that tour, compared to the 10 in 3 series before it. I'd argue then , that he isn't doing his job particularly well! That said, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience, which can only be of great help. But maybe, with a crop of youngsters set to come through, it might be time for Thorpey to take the reins.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (August 13, 2013, 12:42 GMT)

Graham Gooch is probably the best batsman against fast bowling in the modern era. He was the only batsmen who could score runs fast against and who could score away from home against the then West Indian fast bowlers. Viv Richards scored fast but sporadically against Lillee, Thomson and Co at their best only in the Packer World Series; 78/79 Australian pace attack after returning from Packer was not very highly motivated. Greg Chappel scored heavy but slow against the Windies bowling at top again only in a Packer series; 75/76 Windies pace quartet was not experienced. Now don't bring in Gavaskar when we talk about really great batsmen against best pace attacks.

Posted by Big_Chikka on (August 13, 2013, 11:51 GMT)

his worth ethic is undoubtedly notable, can't help feeling in flower he found a partner who complemented him in helping a good england side become contenders for a great england side.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2013, 11:06 GMT)

We all think of Gooch as some batting powerhouse. In county cricket that is certain. However, we had to wait till his 79th Test before his average reached 40! That is so mediocre. Gower's average never dropped below 40 throughout his career. At the age of 36 in 1989, Gooch averaged a mere 36, he then has 4 incredible years from 1990 to 1993, but tailed off again from 1994 till his Test retirement. He also did not allow Gower to play enough, Gower should have retired with 150 Tests and 10,000 runs. Additionally, in terms of commitment to England, Gower did not pick and choose tours, asked to be dropped, or put South African rebel tours ahead of England. As you can tell, Gower is my hero!

Posted by Narkovian on (August 13, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

Thoughts of Ken Barrington.... I am going all misty eyed. Amid the glories of E R Dexter, Bob Barber, Peter May etc .. KB was my true boyhood hero. When he strode to the wicket with his frown and jutting jaw, we knew the opposition was in for some serious work.

Posted by dorothydix on (August 13, 2013, 9:57 GMT)

Coaches who come straight out of professional have to ideally work at lower levels first to learn how to transfer knowledge to players at the top level. A top player does not always make a good coach because its no longer about him any more and top players very often have no idea how to communicate technique in particular. Gooch has learned at county level first including young players coming through . May be Australia could learn from this and appoint batting coaches who have learned how to coach through the different levels. It seems that the same batting mistakes continue to be made year after year. I feel for the players who clearly aren't getting the right help. There is a perception that Test players should know how to play and should not need help once they get to that level. Obviously not the case with Cook who says he can`t do without Gooch. There is abundant talent in Australia but its not being developed.

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