Gooch plays a straight bat
New England batting coach Graham Gooch spoke to ECBtv in East London
Graham Gooch today issued the simplest of mission statements in his new role as England batting coach: to help his country “win cricket matches”.
The former England captain will be with the tourists initially until the end of this month’s first Test against South Africa in Centurion.
Gooch, England’s highest Test run-scorer, has been recruited to assist his fellow ex-Essex batsman and national head coach Andy Flower.
“It’s a great honour to be asked to come and help the England team, to help with anything to do with English cricket,” said the 56-year-old, who was last formally involved with the national squad management at the start of the decade.
“For a lot of us involved in the domestic game, all we’re interested in is supporting the England team and producing players for that England set-up.
“When you’re a driven individual, you want your national sport and your national team - which you’ve given a lot of time to down the years - to be successful. I just want England to win cricket matches.”
Gooch warns, however, that his first task must be to get to know his new charges properly - before he starts advising them in earnest.
“Although I know the players well, in terms of watching them through the media, I don’t know a lot of them well personally,” he admits. “It will be a case of observing, trying to get their trust - and seeing whether I can help in terms of experience.
“Coaching is about getting people’s trust, getting to know them. You can’t just come in and say ‘well, you’ve got to do this, this and that’. That’s not the way it works. You have to build up a relationship over a period of time.”
One such relationship will be with Kevin Pietersen, who is making his way back after four months out following Achilles surgery.
Pietersen made his comeback in the second Twenty20 international and played in the three completed one-dayers that followed, but is yet to make an impact with the bat on this tour.
Gooch said: “I think, with any player - whatever their ability level - if you’ve been out of the game with injury, you’ve got to work hard to find your way back both mentally and physically.
“Kevin has been a super performer for England since 2005. He’s been a match-winner - and I’m sure he’ll continue to be a match-winner. But, if you’ve been off for a while, it takes time.
“It’s not easy to just get yourself back into it. But, in his case, he’s been the mainstay of the England batting over the last four years - and I would expect him to continue.”
The stakes are highest of all in the international game and that is true for no one more than Pietersen - who has a maximum of four opportunities this week to put a big score in the book during two matches against a South Africa Invitational XI, before the first Test at Centurion.
“At international level, your career is on the line every time,” Gooch explained. “Every time you walk out there with your international shirt on, across that white line, you’re putting your reputation and the reputation of your country on the line.
“That is one of the exciting things, the challenges, of playing for your country.”
Pietersen’s form will clearly be a major factor in whether England can add progress in the four-Test series to their 2-1 one-day win over their hosts.
Gooch does not necessarily subscribe to the ‘momentum’ argument that success breeds success, whatever the format.
But, reflecting on the one-day triumph and England’s five-day prospects against a team deposed only this morning by India as the world’s number one, he noted: “Winning beats the hell out of losing.
“South Africa are a high-ranking side in both forms of the game, so it’s a great challenge for England.
“What an opportunity this is for our players - very exciting - and I think this is a challenge they’re going to rise to.”
Gooch, who won his last of his 118 Test and 125 ODI caps in 1995, retains huge enthusiasm for the sport that has been his life.
“Part of the pleasure of playing at the top level is to challenge your ability against the best,” he pointed out.
“England have got a good line-up - and, if they believe in themselves, I don’t see any reason why they can’t have success here.”