London: For the first time in 41 years, Graham Gooch is not actively involved in first-class cricket.
A seamless progression from record-breaking batsman to workaholic coach for county and country came to a sad end in the spring when Alastair Cook, of all people, took the decision that England needed to make a change after a calamitous tour to Australia. At the age of 60, the career of this most diligent of men had stalled. Perhaps permanently.
So what is he up to? “Not a lot,” he says. That is hardly true, for Gooch is still available to advise Michael Carberry, Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott and Chris Woakes. They have all indicated they would like to retain his help, with the blessing of their county and Test coaches. Gooch continues as an ambassador for Essex and the Professional Cricketers’ Association, but will be looking for work come the autumn.
Did he enjoy being England’s batting coach? “Nothing beats playing, but helping players is the next best thing,” he says. “It was a brilliant period and we had a lot of success. I always knew it was going to end at some stage. Is that the way I wanted to finish? No. It is a stain on my credibility.” But surely this was not his fault? “I am looking at this from where I sit, not the judgement of others.
“Alastair is a good man and will be a heavy run-scorer for England again. It is more important he scores runs for England than continues as captain. He did what he thought was right and I accept that. Would I coach him again? He is seeing other coaches. Our paths do not cross now. Andy and I had hoped the England side had one more good tour left and it was a shame for him that things finished like they did. He is a good man and a great coach.”
As for Kevin Pietersen, Gooch will not be drawn as to whether the batsman should still be playing for England. “We got on OK,” he says. “I admired the way he played. But to quote Jimmy Connors, whose character I greatly admired in the world of tennis, ‘we do not go out for dinner very often.’” Gooch chuckled not at Andrew Strauss’s obscenity about Pietersen while commentating this month, but at the former England captain’s unequivocal prefix “absolute”.
Gooch believes that Trott, technically at any rate, is capable of playing for England again. “We shall see where he is at the end of this season in county cricket,” he says. “As is [the case with] Carberry, although he will have to compete with younger batsmen. Coaching is about trust and fostering relationships. It is right and proper those relationships do not stop. But the schedule has to be driven by them. It is quite difficult to find two-hour slots. It is not for me to ring them up all the time.”
As to Cook’s future, Gooch believes, having been criticised himself as England captain, that he should not react to the jibes that have been forthcoming from Shane Warne and other pundits. “It is a mistake to respond,” he says. “We all have the urge to, but whatever you do, you are not going to change those opinions. Alastair has to remain strong to his beliefs, to his strength of character and the way he carries himself. Former players are entitled to an opinion.
“Every player has periods when he hits a slump. The toughest thing is to hold your nerve. I have been out like he was against India last week, bowled off my thigh pad. In 1987 I was out for six ducks in succession, falling over at the crease and being lbw. I went on to score a lot of runs that summer but I was not happy with the way I was batting. I had to make some technical changes.”