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‘An opener must have a presence’
- Former England captain Graham Gooch on opening
A TELEGRAPH SPECIAL

London: For many, Graham Gooch remains a model opener. The genial 54-year-old former England captain, who amassed 8,900 runs in Tests (20x100 including a 333 at Lord’s) and 4,290 in ODIs (8x100), spoke to The Telegraph on Friday.

The following are excerpts

On what keeps him busy, besides media assignments

I gave up the head coach’s role at Essex two years ago, but I’m still coaching the batsmen there… I’m also an ambassador for the County… I try and get sponsors… Of course, I’ve also started the Graham Gooch Scholarship and intend sponsoring the Essex Academy… My partner, Julia, works with me to raise funds for the Scholarship… Among the beneficiaries have been Alastair Cook and Ravinder Bopara.

On why some teams, like Pakistan, are struggling to put together an effective opening partnership

(Grins) Such things probably work in cycles… When I began playing for England (1975), India had one of the best if not the best opener of the modern times — Sunil Gavaskar… I don’t know why some teams struggle… For me, the best place to bat is at the very top of the order.

On opening

Well, you’ve got to face the new ball… It could move around quite a bit, both early on and later… But an opener gets all the opportunities… Openers get the chance to dictate terms… It’s an awesome feeling… I can’t understand why some are reluctant to open… I backed my abilities to cope with the challenges of opening… As you know, I’d started off (both at Essex and for England) in the middle-order.

On who made him open

Keith Fletcher (former England captain and coach)… Incidentally, I’d batted at No.5 in my maiden first-class match, against Northants (in 1973), an attack which included Bishan Bedi and Mushtaq Mohammed… As it turned out, opening the batting improved my game… Improved my concentration.

On the Indian openers, Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik

I like them… Jaffer has the correct technique and Karthik keeps himself and the scorers busy… Who knows, Jaffer could become a great opener.

On the top openers (alphabetically) at this point in time

Cook, Matthew Hayden, Graham Smith… Cook’s very mature, is a smart lad… At 22, he can only get better… It’s remarkable that he’s got six Test hundreds in just over a year… Hayden’s the most dominant opener… Takes the game to the opposition… In fact, in the one-dayers, he frightens the opening bowlers… Sees the ball early and goes for his shots… Smith’s a tenacious opener… Wears his country’s badge on his heart… He does work the ball across the line a bit and that poses problems… However, he likes to get on with the job, quite like Hayden… An opener must have a presence… Smith has it.

On the ideal opening combination

A left-right one… Batsmen with contrasting styles… One should attack, the other graft… I’d attack, while Geoffrey Boycott and later, Michael Atherton, would graft… You don’t want too much of the same.

On whether he envied any opener

Not envied, but I loved watching Barry Richards… He had the model technique… An upright stance… Had all the shots… It’s a pity he could play only a handful of Tests (because of South Africa’s isolation).

On the element of luck

You do get slices of luck… The key is to capitalise on them… If a batsman who averages 40-50 is dropped early, then he must at least score 80-100… I keep telling youngsters that the next ball is important, not the one which has gone. I learnt it from Barry Richards.

On whether age is a factor

No… Something tells you from within… It’s the desire which is important… The enjoyment… I played for England till I was 41.

Finally, the advice he gives to young openers

Play straight and know how to work your way out of tough situations… Learn to enjoy the challenge and learn to adapt to different conditions… Obviously, you can’t play the same way everywhere… For example, if the ball is swinging, you’ve got to play late… Keep the head still, but be flexible with your game plan. If you hit the ball straight and keep it down, there’s not a lot that could go wrong.

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