The 27th floor guest room of the iconic Burj Al Arab building in Dubai overlooks the Persian Gulf. You get a bird’s eye view of the harbour and the deep blue (the colour, in fact, is a little greenish) sea beyond. Graham Gooch nods in appreciation. The former England captain is here to lend his advice to the organisers of the Masters Champions League. As a governing council member of the proposed T20 league for the past greats, he, along with Allan Border, are setting up the guidelines for the tournament which is expected to kick off in February next year.
This is Gooch’s latest occupation. He had been removed as England’s batting coach in May last year as Alastair Cook reportedly wanted a new face to bring in fresh ideas. Gooch’s five-year stint ended abruptly but even from outside he kept an eye on England’s performance, especially Cook’s.
Immediately after the batting coach’s sacking, Cook suffered his biggest slump in form, scoring only 376 runs in seven Tests between May 1 and December 31 last year. His performance in the ODIs was even worse with 379 runs in 15 matches. It eventually led to a limited-overs ouster, just before the World Cup.
With his career at a crossroads, Cook decided to turn to his mentor once again, and it has helped him regain his form. In West Indies he made 268 runs at 53.60 in three Tests. He was almost back to his best, getting his first Test century in nearly two years but Gooch wanted him to do well against New Zealand at home. Tim Southee and company presented a tougher challenge in seamer-friendly conditions.
Cook finished with 309 runs in two Tests (one century, two fifties) at an average of 77.25. The series ended 1-1, but Cook’s batting revival was complete.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gooch said he just took his ward back to the drawing board. “I don’t think Alastair had major problems with his technique. I’ve been working with him since he started his professional cricket, when he was 18 years of age. So we’ve a long-term relationship. We had a bit of a time-off over the last year or so but I came back to working with him at the start of this year,” he said.
“Every player, who has been there for over a period, forms one or two bad habits and you’ve to go back to basics. Alastair re-found the way he played. It was important for him to re-find his patience and I was impressed with his concentration level during the series against New Zealand.”
What has also made a big difference, according to Gooch, is that Cook has been far more aggressive as a batsman in the last two Test series. “That’s why he was successful pretty much in every innings. Not major things wrong with his game but sometimes players lose their way a bit and they forget how they were successful. Cook is back playing with confidence. He’s doing his basics right, moving his feet well,” Gooch added. “He’s in a good place.”
Purely by runs, Cook is England’s best ever with 9,000 runs, including 27 hundreds, in 114 Tests, but he has struggled to adjust his game to the demands of limited-overs cricket. And at 30 years of age, his ODI career seems to be over. But Gooch begs to differ. “I think when he first took over as one-day captain and played 50-overs cricket regularly, he was very successful. Last year he was not up to the mark and ended up losing his place. But I think, in the future, if he’s putting his mind into it, he could regain his place in the one-day side,” he said.
But even with his positivity, Gooch doubts is Cook will be able to make the cut for the next World Cup, which will be played at home. “They’re rebuilding now with the 2019 World Cup in mind, so they’re looking at a younger set of players. Alastair would be 34 in 2019, so he may or may not be included in that plan. But he certainly has got the will and the mind to get back to one-day cricket,” Gooch said.
Talking of the future, Gooch defended ECB’s decision to drop Kevin Pietersen. “England have decided they would be going forward with a different team for the long-term good of English cricket. And I don’t think they’re wrong.”
The writer was in Dubai on the invitation of Masters Champions League