Goochie the great
PUBLISHED: 11:31 09 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013
Renowned as the quiet man of cricket with the power to blow away any bowling attack, Graham Gooch tells Damian Brandy why Essex and its cricket club are the loves of his life
IF YOU were cataloguing great sporting heroes from the county, Essex and England batsman Graham Gooch would be one of the first names on the list. As champions go, in cricket circles at least, there are few who command the respect and admiration of Graham Alan Gooch. But despite this unreserved affection for the man, 'Goochie' as he is known, is as well regarded for his mortality as he is for the grandiosity of his performances; an imperfection that lends itself to a sense of fondness and esteem in equal measure, which may well be part of the reason he is held in such high regard among supporters.
Graham famously bagged a pair (scored two noughts in one game) on his international debut against the Australian tourists in 1975, but his rise from modest freshman to revered opening batsman, accomplished through earnest hard-work and a spirit founded on lionhearted endeavour, serves as inspiration.
However, it was a surprise call to open the batting from Essex captain Keith Fletcher in 1978 that marked a defining moment in his career. 'It was after being converted by Keith to open the batting in 1978 that the real turning point came. I needed to tighten my game to succeed at the top of the order and this helped me do that. I became a far more disciplined player.
'The winter after, I toured with England and that's when all the real technical changes in terms of my back-lift occurred. That marked a big change in my career, it all went from there.'
Graham, who was brought up in Leytonstone but moved to Ilford to continue his cricket development, was a notably timid young man. He even recalls occasions when others used to remark on how he seldom spoke. Some of his earliest teammates in the Essex side would make fun, Keith once enquiring of a timid Graham, 'Does it talk?' It was in spite of his bashfulness rather than because of it, Graham feels, that he was able to achieve so much on the field.
'Sport is a competitive and tough place. Its dog eat dog so it was certainly no advantage to be quiet. You need to have a presence and be confident in your own ability to make it through and my shyness demonstrated neither so it was a hindrance. But it was something I was able to overcome.'
And overcome it he did. His resoluteness at the wicket served as a continual reassurance for England and Essex supporters for more than 20 years in a career that yielded nearly 45,000 runs including 128 hundreds. Graham is described by Frank Keating, the part-author of his one and only autobiography in 1995, as a, 'brutal slayer of bowling', but away from the pitch, Graham; sensitive, loyal and principled, is an altogether less intimidating figure than many of his opponents would have believed.
Graham now lives in the picturesque town of Ingatestone, and admits to never having had the inclination to want to leave Essex, either the club or the county, revealing that it holds a very special place in his heart.
'I've never had any desire to live in any other part of the country or the world for that matter. Home is home to me and I feel comfortable here. I've never had any desire to move anywhere else.
'People have often asked me why I haven't chosen to go and live in Australia or somewhere, but the simple truth is that I love home. I'm a life-long West Ham supporter, as was my Dad, and I've been brought up around here.
'It had always been my ambition to play for Essex as a kid and I was fortunate enough to play in a successful, fun team for my whole career and I've quite simply been involved ever since. The club really has been the love of my life.'
It's little surprise then, that Graham's involvement with the Essex County Cricket Club is fast approaching its fifth decade. He now spends his time and boundless energy nurturing the next young crop of Essex cricketers, both through the Graham Gooch Cricket Academy (named after himself because he helps generate the funds needed to run it) and his scholarship scheme - both of which offer him the chance to put something back into a game, and a club, that have given him so much.
'Over the past six years I've been running the scholarship programme which offers some of the younger players the chance to go and train overseas in Australia and India for a few months at a time to enhance their game,' he explains.
'It was on the back of the success of that scheme that I decided to set up the academy.
So the future for Essex County Cricket Club looks in safe hands. The scholarship scheme has already produced two international cricketers in Alastair Cook and Ravinda Bopara. Although mentoring doesn't compare to the buzz of playing, for Graham, it's now about reinvesting his knowledge and expertise.
'It' great to help young players progress and be part of their development, and although it doesn't compare to playing in any way, it's still very rewarding and satisfying to watch young players improve and perform. I'd like players to understand my philosophies and values on being successful, but I don't expect them to agree or follow my path.'
With sustainability the current buzz-word, this Essex cricketing hero with worldwide experience, is serving as a renewable energy source for future talent.