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The Ashes - Graham Gooch reveals England plan: Bat better

Tuesday, 3 December 2013 - 8:49am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Former captain admits to the prevalence of sledging but says his side must now show resolve and 'stand up'.

As England's batting coach, Graham Gooch is closer to the modern game than most of his contemporaries, yet he shares their observations that today's sledging seems more personal than in his day. "I'm not out in the middle but when I played there was always a bit of banter and the odd words said, some with feeling," said Gooch before taking voluntary nets in Adelaide yesterday.

"It seems to be bit more prevalent now in the level that it goes to. "As to the content, I'm not sure as I'm not out there, but there seems to be more content if you know what I mean. But I don't think there was any more than usual in the first Test here than has happened before, but there has always been words said."

There are usually three reasons for sledging. The first is to unnerve youngsters to see if they have chinks in their mental make-up. This is why Mitchell Johnson was chipping away at Joe Root at the Gabba and why Root's angelic smile was a fine antidote. The second is to distract established players, especially those likely to do well against you. On the 1982-83 tour of Australia, Derek Randall made 78 and 115 in the first Test at Perth. In both innings, almost every ball he faced from Dennis Lillee was followed with abuse. As a tactic, it was clearly misplaced - in county cricket everyone knew Randall loved to chat in the middle to calm his nerves, which is why everyone ignored him.

The third reason is so that a player might gee himself up in the ensuing fracas. Glenn McGrath and Michael Atherton have both admitted picking verbal scraps just to raise adrenalin levels. To work, though, it needs a retort, not always forthcoming from teams where English, let alone Anglo-Saxon, is not the first language. But has it gone too far, as it did under Ricky Ponting's Australia six or seven years ago. Ponting was told to clean it all up which he did, but Australia lost their way, especially against England, which may be why there has been a return to the bad old days of no-holds-barred sledging.

Gooch played in an era when opponents mixed freely after the day's play, with the side batting heading to the fielding side's dressing room for a cold beer or three. But teams are more insular now, with higher professional standards, though not necessarily more respect for one another. "Years ago, there used to be more of a social bond between players but that does not happen any more," said Gooch.

"I'm not saying that is a good or bad thing but it just doesn't happen with the modern player." In the past, mixing was thought to help defuse the mythology that had built up around certain players, such as Dennis Lillee or Jeff Thomson. Instead, England's batsmen must find ways of coping with Mitchell Johnson despite not knowing that he might have a cat called Tiddles. However England like to deflect it, he will have been their main focus since decamping from Brisbane. The other bowlers are certainly talented, but he stood out like the new southern stand does at the Adelaide Oval. "Johnson had a very good game in Brisbane," said Gooch.

"He was the difference... but we have to make sure he's not the difference in this one." Once England have sorted out which of Root or Ian Bell will bat at three at Adelaide and who they might have at six, they will not be overburdened by detail. "Our plan is a simple one," said Gooch. "Play better." England need big runs and that usually starts with the captain Alastair Cook. When Cook gets runs, England tend to and their captain's relatively slim pickings over the past year have coincided with the team's fallow run during which they have passed 400 just once in 10 Tests.

In the 10 before that, they passed 400 six times. Have the twin pressures of opening and captaining the team caught up with Cook, a man so cool he does not sweat even when the temperature heads for its own century? He certainly appeared to play Johnson better than most, and England will hope he recalls Adelaide three years ago, when he complemented Kevin Pietersen's double century with a hundred of his own.

England have a habit of starting overseas Test series badly then turning them around, but this feels different. "Australia have been short on wins recently so there is a lot more hype here in the media, who are whipping it up," said Gooch. "We've got to show resolve [and] character as it was a poor performance in Brisbane, and do the job they've trained for and stand up."


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