Gooch labels England design
Graham Gooch today spelled out the rallying mantra England hope will help them win the Ashes in Australia for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.
Test series success Down Under is a feat which has previously eluded former England captain Gooch, whose Test-best 333 was today equalled by West Indies opener Chris Gayle.
But in his guise as England consultant batting coach, Gooch senses the time may have come for Andrew Strauss’ team to claim a piece of cricket history.
England face Australia A tomorrow in their final warm-up match for the main event, which begins next Thursday in Brisbane.
They will do so without their likely Test bowling attack, but Gooch insists that in no way signals any relaxation of the intensity which has been noticeable from the outset whenever England have taken the field or visited the nets over the past three weeks.
“We’ve come here for one reason - one reason only,” he said. “We’ve not come for the hospitality. We’ve not come for the weather. We’ve come to win the Ashes - it’s as simple as that. Everything we do is geared towards that.
“Picking the side, preparing the players, getting your minds right for the game - that’s what it’s all about.”
Gooch reiterated that the tourists respect the task facing them but are far from overawed by it.
“We’ve started off well; the preparation has gone as we would have hoped,” he added.
“We’re not making any predictions. We know it’s a great challenge against a good cricket side - and we’re looking forward to that challenge.
“We’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of purpose in our side, and that should hold us in good stead come the Ashes.”
England arrived in Australia with similar hope and expectation four years ago, only to encounter instead disappointment as Andrew Flintoff’s team were whitewashed 5-0.
Then as now, the Ashes were in England’s safe keeping after a 2-1 home victory the previous year.
But from the moment Steve Harmison delivered the first ball of the series at the Gabba to Flintoff himself at second slip, little went right.
Gooch knows a five-match series cannot be won and lost instantly, nor can one Test.
But he is well aware too that no-one can afford to be off their game from the moment the action is under way.
“The first ball sets the tone, sometimes,” he said. “Whether you’re batting or bowling, you need to be playing cricket from 11am, 10.30, whatever time the match starts.
“You don’t want to be starting to play cricket after half an hour. You’ve got to be ’on it’ straightaway.”
That same truth will stand, of course, in the four-day match starting tomorrow - for none more so than the four bowlers set to fill the boots of Queensland-bound James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann.
Gooch repeated the point made yesterday by team director Andy Flower - that Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad, Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar may also find themselves it the thick of the Ashes battle over the next two months.
“The simple fact they’ve been selected in the squad means they’ve got a chance - of course, they have,” Gooch said.
“But the whole thing about selection is you pick the best side to win the match, the side that’s going to play the cricket you want leading up to the Test series.
“It’s not about giving everybody a game; it’s about doing what you think is right to prepare your side eventually for the first Test match.”
Each of England’s first-choice players has done enough, either on tour so far or last summer, to begin the Ashes with no form doubts hanging over them.
In any case, Gooch has every confidence in all of them to overcome issues which are a mere occupational hazard for Test cricketers.
“At this level, every player is under pressure,” he said. “Succeeding at international level is about handling the pressure, playing under pressure, giving the performance when things are not quite right or whether or not you’re in good form.
“There’s always pressure. One bad match doesn’t make a bad player. Sometimes a player loses a little bit of confidence. But the ability and skill is still there.”
Gooch is naturally targeting victory over Australia A at the Bellerive Oval over the next four days.
After beating Western Australia in Perth, and then domination of a rain-affected draw versus South Australia in Adelaide, he sees the match starting tomorrow as an opportunity for England to beat their hosts 2-0.
“The whole squad and the whole management have looked at this three-match ‘series’ - against Western Australia, South Australia and this game - as a precursor for the Tests,” Gooch explained.
“We want to play good cricket, cricket in the right spirit; we want to try to win the matches, and have a purpose about our cricket.”
The calibre of opponents will go up a notch against a team captained by Test batsman Cameron White and featuring players throughout with either international aspirations or experience.
Despite a theoretically weaker tourist attack, Gooch nonetheless expects England to up the rate of improvement he has already identified on tour.
“Things have gone pretty well to plan so far,” he said. “The team are improving, and this is another chance to continue that.
“All our team want to build on that improvement, ready for that first Test at the Gabba.
“It’s a chance for our players to raise the bar, up against a good set of players who are hoping to represent their country one day or already have.”