Graham Gooch: Speaks Out!

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The Boundary Club networking meets cricket June 2016 Graham Gooch

The only time I played truant as a teenager from school, sneaking back into the house, switching on the TV, was to watch Graham Gooch bat in his first Test Match against Australia at Edgbaston in 1975. No one noticed my brief absence as I was back at school quicker than a Jeff Thompson delivery. Gooch being out for a duck in both innings.

Being a junior member of the crowd, sitting in the Mound stand in the heat at Lords for the next Test, watching Gooch play a little better and the Yorker Ashley Mallet bowled him out with is still visible in my mind today. Graham was a talented youngster; it was a while before he was picked for England again. If someone would have said what he was going on to achieve in the game of cricket (club & country), few would believe it.

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He was introduced as a speaker by Tony Cottey who praised his past performance and impressive stats for England along with a story of his own playing days against Gooch’s county Essex. And the day he proudly got Gooch out caught & bowled Cottey.

On taking the stand to speak Gooch paid reference to the match that was going on in front of him between Sussex & Essex in the (50 over) Royal London one-day cup through the large French windows, that separated the tabled audience from the pitch. ‘I’ve never spoken when a cricket match was going on in front of me’ he said. Such is the picturesque scenes from the county ground. His comic targets included amusing stories on fellow cricket players Geoff Boycott, Mike Gatting & Phil Tufnell. Gooch granted Tufnell his England debut, being described as ‘the laziest player’ he knew. He told Gooch he was ‘having trouble sleeping … but it’s alright at night’. Graham liked it when he was bowling .. ‘as he couldn’t be fielding’

He mentioned the stress he had felt when taking over the England team in the early nineties ‘it’s enough to lose your hair’ a remark that got him nicely into sending up his connection with promoting hair transplants, for a London-based clinic, as well as the Australian-based Advanced Hair Studio.

Being a boyhood Essex fan, brought up in the county, I first caught glimpse of Gooch in 1974, during Keith Fletcher’s Benefit year, where as part of the fund raising activities for this then legend, an Essex side in honour of Fletcher would visit smaller village teams in the county and trounce their tubby bowlers all around the pitch in a form of exhibition match, rising funds for the player. Taken seriously by the part time amateur’s and far less so by the professionals as it was their day off, meeting a standard of play long past by them, turning up to support a fellow player.

One portly figure on the Essex side stood out as he seemed to be doing all the hard work, so much of the bowling, going round with the hat, all the jobs the seniors were too proud to do, indeed the rooky Gooch chased a ball over the boundary right next to me and ended up falling into an unexpected ditch. Splash! Shoes and whites spoiled, with some unlike cricketing language coming from the unexpected pit much to the slight annoyance of my father who was sitting on a straw bale with me. The following years saw Fletcher & Gooch regenerate Essex as a cricketing force wining every major trophy in a golden period between 1979-1992.

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Graham admitted his favourite player was Barry Richards of South Africa but the most distinctive was Viv Richards and recalls fielding close in when Richards broke the record for the fastest century (beaten recently). Gooch in fear of physical damage as balls past him, Viv telling him where he was going to put the next shot. ‘Open your eyes Goochy .. I’m going to hit the man in red (spectator) … row 12’.

Graham also recalled the morning of his first test match, sitting at breakfast in the hotel by himself when Cricket legend Len Hutton a then England selector came up to congratulate him and wish him well. Len then said ‘Tell me have you played against Australia before’? Gooch looked at him bewildered and said ‘Yes, don’t you remember …. you selected me two weeks ago for the MCC team against Australia’. A surprised Hutton said ‘Did I ? … I don’t watch much cricket these days’.

Gooch’s comedy is often dry, in the 80’s his cricket impressions on the pitch of various bowlers run up styles were amusing to those who followed the game. Some of the humour in his speech was more suited to an evening event than an afternoon lunch. But essentially Gooch is a serious man. He is a connoisseur of cricket thinking about the game deeper than many others. His Honorary Doctorate of Arts awarded by the University of East London in 2011, is well deserved. A wine lover, his batting career resembles a very good red getting better and better with age.

Having given his life to his beloved county Essex, Graham was asked to be England’s batting coach in February 2012 and subsequently commended by Alistair Cook for his influence on England’s and his own batting prowess. Indeed, Gooch has been working with Cook since he first turned up at Essex as a youngster and he often returns for advice when his technique needs further tinkering and maintenance.

With such a clinical thoughtful mind and a assembled business audience, several would rather have listened to Grahams views on leadership formulating a team and getting the best out of people, something he has worked with corporate companies on, or how he tried to shape the England team in the early nineties from disappointments to success. He still has much to give.

Images courtesy of wedding and event photographer Paul Fletcher

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