Gooch was arguably the best ever opening batsman against express pace bowling
I have rarely seen a batsman as engrossed out in the middle as Former English opening batsman Graham Gooch in full flow, who could pierce the impenetrable gaps. He may have lacked the touch of a David Gower or solidity of Boycott but for sheer conviction no English batsmen of his time was his equal. At his best he could sit alongside Hobbs or Hutton, being equally majestic. Apart from Barry Richards I never saw an opening batsman reveal such sustained flow or equally rhythmic in his drives .At his best Gooch took penetration of domination to the level of greats like Viv Richards or Tendulkar.It reminded one of an army batallion continuously tightening the noose on his opponents, elevating intensity with every attacking .stroke.Gooch was simply the epitome of batting ruthlesness.Few batsman ever improved with age as Gooch .
Today we commemorate the 40 th anniversary since what was arguably the best ever batting exhibition against sustained or express fast bowling. Facing the best ever pace attack of West Indies ever Graham Gooch unleashed counter attack at the highest intensity, scoring 153 out of a total of 285 at Kingston in the fifth test, of the 1981 series. No batting feat was as challenging in that era as confronting the intimidatory pace of the West Indies bowling attack, which had the impact of a bomber plane. Its ferocity or destructive power has not been equalled in the history of test cricket. Very rarely has the lightning pace of the deadly quartet been taken by the scruff of the neck as Gooch did that day. The fiery pace of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft had not been dealt with as much conviction even by great batsman like Greg Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar.It was a sport’s ultimate spectacle to witness the glorious drives, pull and hook shots of Gooch resembling the counter agression of an army against a bomber raid. Impetuosity was taken to regions rarely traversed. Every other English batsmen was al at sea with Gooch single-handedly carrying the mantle. Even the good balls were punished and even after unleashing a barrage of short-pitched deliveries the West Indies bowlers looked hapless. The bouncing ball was punished with the conviction of an executioner. In a total pancake it was close to the perfect cricket innings. Above all it was executed on the fastest wicket of Kingston.Gooch was literally like the propellor of a fighter plane that day taking combat to regions of the sublime. The likes of Gavaskar or Boycott may have displayed better technical skill or even the Chappell brothers or Mohinder Amarnath but for sheer domination against express pace none equalled thi s effort of Gooch.To me it was batting skill against great pace personified.-,reminiscent of David overpowering the Goliath. Rarely has hooking and driving been taken to such majestic heights. To me Gooch’s 153 that day took batting domination to regions of the sublime ,being a manifestation of the glory of test cricket.
In 1991 at Leeds Gooch rekindled memories of 1981 at Leeds against a weaker West Indies bowling attack .He scored a match-winning 154 out of a total of 254, but amidst a graver situation. Above all he won the game ,ressurecting his country from dire straits to achieve a glorious victory. He was not as ferocious as at Kingston in 1981 but revealed more technical adjustment, improvisation and application. I just watched a video of his innings which took batting skill to region s rarely traversed. He resembled the counter attack of a military batallion in the depths of deep despair..He single-handedly retrieved a sinking ship with the most breath taking strokeplay.The ferocious West Indies pacemen kept pegging back at him but Gooch dispelled them in the manner of powder being crushed in a mill, making them literally clueless. I just don’t have an adjective for the cavalier manner Gooch blazed away that day. The shots where with utmost disdain he manoeuvred the ball down the legside always flash in my memory. Very rarely in cricket has a team’s fortunes revolved or been woven as a single batsman as here.
Inspite of England going down 4-0 in 1988 Gooch played 2 classic knocks in 1988 against a revived West Indies bowling attack. Malcolm Marshall was at his absolute best and Gooch counter attacked him like nonoe else.In 1980 I can never forget his enthralling strokeplay when scoring 123 at Lords and 83 at The Oval against the best ever pace attack.
Inconsistency was a feature in Gooch’s career ,unlike Sunil Gavaskar ,Geoff Boycott or Gordon Greenidge.However I maintain against express pace he was the best opening batsman of his era and arguably of all time. No opening batsman equalled Gooch’s averaging over 57 and scoring 2 centuries against the great Calypso quartet in 1981,or executed such a bating exhibition on a suspect pitch as Gooch at Leeds in 1991.He also gave flashes of brilliance against Australia like when scoring 197 in 1985 home Ashes but failed miserably in his final series in Australia in 1994-95.
In 1990 in England against India Gooch reached statistical heights in sublime proportions amassing 752 runs, including a 333 at Lords. The likes of Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton did not achieve these heights, nor Geoff Boycott.Rarely have I ever have seen a batsman in such command or control, resembling an emperor annexing territory after territory. Earlier on the 1981-82 tour of India at Madras he gave one of the most clinical displays of batting aggression when scoring 120.Overall he averaged over 54 in that series,more than Sunil Gavaskar.I had never seen an overseas opening batsman batting in such a cavalier manner as Gooch did in that series.Gooch superbly executed footwork against spinners or the turning ball, proving he was also a great player of spin.
Gooch lost out by joining the rebel tour of South Africa from 1982-85.He was also not at his best against fast-medium bowling and was repeatedly a bunny of Terry Alderman in 1981 and 1989 as well as Kapil Dev and Richard Hadleee in 1986. What also counts against him is that he missed quite a few tours as well as home series like against Pakistan in 1987 or in Australia in 1986-87.On the 1986 and 1990 tours of West Indies he only gave occasional flashes of his earlier brilliance in 1981.Still at his best to me he had no equal as a n opener against genuine pace.
In his time Gooch was only next to Greenidge in One day International Cricket. No English batsman was more prolific in the shorter version in his time with Gooch topping the averages in the 1987 Reliance world cup, executing some cavalier match winning knocks.
If you weigh his first class record having scored over 40000 run s Gooch has to be classed with the all-time great batsman.Gooch scored a staggering 44846 runs at an average of 49.01 with 128 centuries. Overall, in terms of aggregate in all forms of cricket,Gooch is at the very top. In tests cricket Gooch amassed 8900 runs at an average of 42.58 with 20 centuries. However figures do not reveal his true greatness. I personally label Gooch as ‘great’ when you asess the attacks and situation sin which he amassed the bulk of his runs.
Overall I would rank Gooch only behind Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Barry Richards and Sunil Gavaskar as an opening batsman and overall amongst the 25 best batsmen of all time. To me even a whisker may not separate Gooch with West Indian maestro Gordon Greenidge. Cristopher martin Jenkins ranks Gooch amongst the 45 best cricketers of all time, ahead of even likes of Ricky Ponting ,Javed Miandad and Alan Border. However this is very questionable .Nevertheless against express pace I would rank Gooch amongst the top ten batsmen of all time and best opening batsman of all.Afterall even the great Bary Richards hardly faced the great West Indies pacemen .I must mention that the great Sunil Gavaskar scored most of his centuries against West Indies facing the weaker attacks and scored only three of his thirteen centuries centuries against them facing the great quartet.Gooch has more centuries and fifties against the top West Indies pace quartet.Greenidge never had to face the bowlers of his own team and not at his best down under. In the 1980’s Gooch would be selected as an opener in my world test XI. It is significant that Gooch averages over 45 in tests the Caribbean from 1980-91, more than any overseas opening batsmen and above 48 overall against West Indies in the same period. Morally it overshadows Barry Richards, Boycott or even Gavaskar against express pace.
In his career Gooch rated Malcolm Marshal as the best bowler he faced and Barry Richards as the bets batsman he ever saw. However he still chose Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards in his all-time XI as well as Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad.
Where Gooch failed was galvanising the resources of English cricket as a skipper but he more than compensated for it as a team coach in the 2019 cricket world cup. However Gooch at his helm could not take English cricket to the top like later stars like Andrew Flintoff ,Alistair Cook or Kevin Pieterson.It is ironic that his dismissals in the finals of the 1987 and 1992 cricket world cups cost England the title. He also did sport a great discredit by joining a rebel tour of South Africa in 1982, which morally served apartheid.
Overall, whatever his failings, I remember Gooch for radiating joy , elevating the spirit of the glorious game and above all enjoying his cricket ,as few ever did in the glorious game.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com