Ahmedabad: Although he is yet to pick up a bat on tour, there are few men in the England touring party who have put in more hard yards than Graham Gooch, the batting coach. When England played each of their three warm-up matches, in conditions they knew were nothing like what they could expect in the Tests, it was left to Gooch to ensure that his unit was shipshape.
For hours, Gooch worked with his wards in the practice nets, at times using a spin mat and throw downs, at others hand-picking net bowlers to help batsmen work on a specific weakness and sometimes just watching from a distance. Gooch was spotted seated just beyond the ropes during England's first innings, shaking his head in dismay at what he was witnessing. The expression changed on the fourth day when England scripted a remarkable revival through Alastair Cook and Matt Prior.
"When you've been in the game as long as I have, you've seen most things that happen," said Gooch, attempting to explain the carnage of the first innings. "We saw poor shots, poor decisions, bad mistakes, bad thinking, bad judgment and then you sometimes see the opposite which is what we saw today. It was great commitment from our guys and great fighting spirit. There was belief in their own ability and Alastair led from the front as captain."
When Gooch speaks paternally of Cook, you understand where he's coming from, for the blossoming of England's freshly minted captain has happened in Gooch's watch. It's not that long ago that Cook, in a bid to build strength, turned up at Gooch's house at six each morning to chop wood. On Sunday, when Cook tucked Umesh Yadav through square for the brace that took him to three figures, he went past Gooch's tally of 20 Test hundreds. But Gooch was only happy to watch his mark be bettered.
"That will do him a world of good to put that score on the board, showing what he is capable of and what this team is capable of. I think that was as good an innings as I've seen him play because he was under great pressure after a poor first innings performance from the team," said Gooch. "There are no demons in this pitch and it is what we expected in this part of the world. Once you get in it becomes a little easier and you have to trust your skills."
Gooch, whose labour of love has been getting batsmen to kick on once they've reached three figures, asking them to score "daddy hundreds", would have been especially pleased to see Cook unbeaten on 168 when the day ended. "He can do it (bat long) because he is one of the best players in the world. It is not just physical skill I'm talking about, you need skill between the ears," said Gooch. "This lad has had a great temperament from when he first started and came here to make his debut. He proved even then the priceless skill of knowing how to play. From the outset he knew what he could do and what he couldn't do and he still has that skill today. He crafted a century today. It wasn't a flamboyant innings, he did the job that was necessary."
While Cook provided joy, Gooch would've been less pleased with the manner in which Kevin Pietersen twice came a cropper against the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha. "I think Kevin will be very disappointed with both innings. He trains very hard and practises very hard, and has played well in recent times," said Gooch. "But like other players he has to trust his ability. There is a certain way of playing over here, you've got to get yourself in and trust your defence, once you've done that you can look at what scoring options you've got."
While Pietersen provided room for head-scratching, Matt Prior ensured that Cook did not plough a lone furrow. "Matt has been a fantastic cricketer for England over the past few years. He has played some great counter-attacking innings. He comes in at seven, he likes to take on the bowlers a bit and he likes to play an aggressive type of game," said Gooch. "He tailored that general style to stay with Alastair. You still saw some shots but he showed resolute defence and that is the style of play that worked. If you saw how the Indian players played, they do attack but they also stick in there and don't take chances. Matt did that today and showed he was adaptable. The skill of scoring runs is being adaptable, you can't score the same way every time. You have to tailor the way you play to the conditions. That is what stands one player out from another."