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Smart players know how to adjust their game: Graham

- A telegraph exclusive
- Legend on the art of batting and Captain Cook
Graham Gooch

Calcutta: Graham Gooch, a former England captain and an all-time great opener, recently spoke to The Telegraph. Now 59, Gooch is England’s batting coach, a role he’s perfectly suited for.

The following are excerpts

Q What separates the top-notch batsmen from the mediocre ones?

A A combination of factors... Talent can get you into a team, hard work gets you to the top. The high-class batsmen continuously strive to improve their game... Technical ability, knowledge, concentration.

As England’s batting coach, do you actually coach?

I try not to merely coach batsmen, but to coach them to score big. Like if you get a hundred, go on and get a really big one... A daddy hundred... I suppose you can bat, but can you score big runs? And, score them consistently?

You’ve mentioned knowledge...

As cricket is played in different conditions, it’s important to have an idea about what’s in store for you... If you can, talk to the stalwarts from those cities, soak in everything and use the knowledge to benefit your batting. If it’s a flat wicket, you could use all the tools in your bag. If the wicket is turning, well, it’s a somewhat different ball game. You don’t play the same game everywhere and the skill bit comes in. I remember Sachin Tendulkar hardly scored on the off-side during the course of his 241 not out at the SCG on the 2003-04 tour.

Did you ever question Sachin on that?

I did... He said that he hadn’t been playing well and wasn’t that confident. So, he’d been leaving balls outside the off... There was a message there — never tell yourself not to do anything, tell yourself to do something else. Adapt. Of course, sometimes even the best of plans don’t work.

You quit long before T20 came into being. What’s your take on the format?

A different mentality is needed... It’s important to stay calm as T20 is such a furious game. Batsmen can get caught up in the moment, can get caught up in the razzmatazz... It’s easy to get excited and lose composure. But be it the 50-over game or T20, it’s important to play cricket shots when you’re looking to be aggressive.

The mental aspect is huge. What do you tell a batsman going through a low phase?

That the self-belief must be there. Indeed, self-belief helped me in the second half of my 20-year career at the international level. It’s easy to think negative, but I didn’t lose faith in my capabilities and tried to push the positives. I saw the glass as half full rather than half empty. You’ve got to believe that you can achieve and succeed. Keep concentrating as one mistake and it’s all over. For a batsman, there’s no second chance. It’s about one ball and, when you’ve played that ball, focus on the next and the next.

How do you work with a Kevin Pietersen, who is so naturally gifted?

When you’re a coach, you try and help everyone. Obviously, you will connect better with some, for that’s human nature. The relationships are different and there’s nothing wrong with that. With some, you could work very closely in the nets, one-on-one sessions... With others, you could just chat about their game. However, no one person can be everything to every player. Not possible.

Fair enough. How do you rate Pietersen?

Kevin’s an entertainer... When he’s at the crease, he can hurt the opposition because he gets runs quickly... He gives his captain more time to get the opposition out.

In random order, who are your top batsmen at this point in time?

Sachin, Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Kevin, Kumar Sangakkara... Virat Kohli in the shorter formats.

You’ve been a mentor to captain Cook. When did you first meet him?

I think I first met Alastair 10-11 years ago, when I was the head coach at Essex. His mental stability and mental capacity to work things out is exceptional... I’m sure there are more eye-catching players around, but as the old saying goes, ‘it’s not about how you get them, it’s how many’... Alastair has improved his front-foot game tremendously and cuts and pulls really well. Smart players know how to adjust their game. He’s smart.

What is Cook’s No.1 strength?

His mental toughness... On the last tour (2005-06), he scored 60 in his debut innings in the Nagpur Test, within hours of arriving from the West Indies, and followed that up with 104 not out in the second innings. He knows his game and, more importantly, knows how to score.

Will you elaborate?

Alastair’s 27 and this could be the start of his best period in Test cricket. The best years for a batsman are till he’s probably 35. But there have been exceptions... Sachin, Kallis, Ricky Ponting... There was a time when people said Alastair wouldn’t be able to sustain himself in ODIs, but like all good players, he found a way to score in the 50-over format as well. For me, he’s exceptional.

How is Cook as a leader?

Alastair’s well respected. A captain has to make a mark... In the process, he could make mistakes, but will grow as a captain if he learns from them. These are early days, but I’m convinced he’ll be a good leader.

Should the captain entirely be his own man or be open to inputs from others?

Both, really. You’re a foolish man if you don’t take advice. The buck, however, stops with the captain... It’s very easy to be the vice-captain, for you can give all the advice without having to make decisions. Actually, it’s quite a nice position, because your neck is not on the line.

What must a captain always do?

Be honest.

The final one... Recent decades have seen quite a few captains from Essex... Keith Fletcher before you, Nasser Hussain and Cook after you. What’s special about the Essex connection?

(Grins) I wouldn’t say there’s anything special. Perhaps, there’s something in the air.