Gooch backs batsmen to deliver
England’s batsmen are ready to put their struggles in the United Arab Emirates behind them with an improved showing in Sri Lanka, according to their mentor Graham Gooch.
Although England won both the one-day and Twenty20 legs of their recent series against Pakistan, an apparent inability to decipher their opponents’ spin bowlers saw them whitewashed over three Tests.
Gooch, starting life as a full-time member of Andy Flower’s backroom team having been promoted from a consultancy role, led an advance party to Colombo last week to iron out some of those batting flaws.
Acclimatisation to gruelling conditions was also on the cards for the likes of captain Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Matt Prior - who were not involved in the limited-overs matches against Pakistan - but there is no hiding the fact that Gooch’s top priority has been getting England’s batting line-up back on track.
“We were hopeful of winning the Test series and we created a winning opportunity in the second game, but were not good enough to take it,” he said.
“I think they (the batsmen) will be looking at this series to put things right. We were knocked down but the important thing is how you get up, how you go forward.
“Our skills didn’t match up and we were thoroughly beaten by Pakistan. That’s tough to take but you have to take it on the chin and think how you move forward from there. We have to work hard on technique and also on thinking patterns - how are we going to score our runs?
“Our players are capable of improving their performances against this type of bowling and being a lot better than we were against Pakistan. Only time will tell how much of an improvement we can make.”
England, meanwhile, have been boosted by the rain-affected draw between New Zealand and South Africa - a result which means the Proteas cannot replace Flower’s side at the summit of the Test rankings before April 1.
That ensures England will top the International Cricket Council’s annual list and receive 175,000 US dollars (just over £110,000) in prize money.
Despite having talked openly about their quest for top spot as they climbed the rankings, Gooch insists now is the time for England to let performances speak for themselves and allow the table to take care of itself.
“Does being number one dominate team meetings now? No. What does dominate team meetings is how we are going to beat Sri Lanka, how we are going to beat West Indies in the next series, how we are going to beat South Africa after that,” he said.
“It was obviously a goal of the team and for English cricket to reach that position. Hanging on to it was always going to be the harder bit so I don’t think you should always look at that bigger picture.
“You can only stay at that level if you keep winning series, keep winning individual matches. That’s what we need to focus on.”
England will undergo a first full training session tomorrow at the R Premadasa Stadium, after the remainder of the squad joined the early arrivals last night.
And Gooch left the newcomers in no doubt about the physical challenges in front of them before the first Test, which starts in Galle on March 26.
“These are unnatural conditions for English players - we don’t get this kind of heat,” he said.
“It’s different to the UAE. It’s more humid, the heat is more oppressive ... but they’re not going to focus on that. They’ll focus on their skills with the bat and ball and in the field. That is what can hopefully bring us out ahead of Sri Lanka.
“This is not an obstacle to us, not something to be feared. We have to see it as a challenge.”