Patience, biggest virtue

Throughout his time in cricket which now amounts to about 40 years Graham Gooch has learnt it is an up and down sort of a business and that you had better not take too much for granted, writes Ted Corbett.

You may catch a glimpse of Graham Gooch during the long Test match days, usually wandering round the dressing room area, occasionally whispering in someone's ear, often carrying a clipboard, rarely smiling.

Gooch does not do smiling. He's a serious man and he wants the world to understand that jokes and witty remarks are for other people.

Throughout his time in cricket which now amounts to about 40 years he has learnt it is an up and down sort of a business and that you had better not take too much for granted.

On a Sunday morning you hear you are wanted to bat for England; a week later you have made a pair and your future is in grave doubt. Or, in another difficult part of his life, he was a successful England captain with a top score of 333 and not too long later could hardly put a few runs together for Essex.

So if he looks glum, forgive him. I am often tempted to shout, “Cheer up, Goochie, it may never happen” but it is his nature to fear the worst and more than once his trepidation has been justified.

Not at the moment when he is the batting coach on the tour of Australia and having success beyond anyone's expectation.

For there is no doubt it is his coaching, his persistence in teaching Alastair Cook right from wrong that has made the biggest difference to this England team as they try to keep the Ashes.

Until this tour Cook has been rich in talent but never able to produce runs consistently for all his 16 Test hundreds, equal to Bradman at that age and only a step or three behind Tendulkar.

Cook will be 26 on Christmas Day — and I will not bore you with talk of Father Christmas bringing him another gift — but in the 10 years at the top which surely lie ahead, heaven alone knows how many tons he may complete.

There has never been any doubt that Cook had the skills to succeed but it can only have been Gooch who persuaded him to fight for every run, to book in for bed and breakfast as the old professionals used to say and never to give away your wicket.

The example for Cook was standing next to him — that is Gooch himself.

Gooch began as a stroke-maker but under the tutelage of Essex's wise old coots — like their captain Keith Fletcher — he learnt that patience was the biggest virtue and that thinking was one of the arts a cricketer must develop.

Fletcher was hardly a prolific run-scorer in his days as skipper but he contrived to make a large number of what I might call big fifties — 70s, 80s and 90s — as he used every bit of cunning to win county matches.

Essex are a small county not used to cutting a dash — at one time they had millions stowed away in their bank without any idea how to spend it — and they are rather happier using their wits to put one over on the opposition than staging a colourful show.

Gooch also had a long career and when he stepped down after half a dozen small scores in a row Essex had no doubt they should make use of his services as coach.

There is also another Essex figure in the mix. The present England coach is Andy Flower from Essex after Zimbabwe and, as a left-hander, there is no doubt he will also have passed on tips and hints to Cook. After England pulled off their comprehensive win by an innings and 71 in Adelaide he said in that simple way of his: “Graham has been superb. The players respect his achievements and he is a wonderful presence in the dressing room.”

These Essex folk are not the usual run of the mill cricket people. Most of them started in the East End of London, certainly aware of the value of friends and the need to keep a keen look-out at all times.

One of them, ordered to field at long leg and third man at either end decided it was less wearisome to borrow a spectator's cycle for the long journey every over.

How well they understand the game could be seen in Adelaide where by the end of the second Test England where Cook was already clear candidate for man of the series after scoring 400 runs in his first three innings and the Australians crumbling in ways that reminded me of England in the bad old days.

It's odd what goes through one's mind in the moments of triumph. As Graeme Swann threw his arms in the air in celebration his pals fell on him and he was almost knocked off his feet.

Just shows how much we miss Freddie Flintoff. When he made the cross of St. Andrew, inviting his team-mates for a cuddle his huge frame could withstand the onslaught. England may be winning but they still have their weaknesses.

Having dominated both Tests and being one up with three to play England had reasons to be cheerful, except for the injury to Stuart Broad which may keep him out until the World Cup.

I had wondered when I read 10,000 articles before the tour about this handsome lad who would change the world, model clothes and set cricket alight with his ready wit whether it might no break down under the weight of expectation.

Being the poster boy of any England cricket team is difficult going right back to Denis Compton via Ian Botham and there was always a danger it might come back to bite Broad.

Instead it is his body that has proved to be frail and his experience lacking. I just hope he has not gone into the match injured because I know that Gooch, Flower and all other thinking men of Essex would never forgive that.