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Cricket World Cup History: Graham Gooch, the rock on which England rested for a long time

ANALYST
Feature
221   //    Timeless

Graham Gooch was a batting icon in his playing days
Graham Gooch was a batting icon in his playing days

Graham Gooch was a powerful batsman, a fine player of fast bowling who could take on the spinners with equal felicity. He was technically correct, and innovative too if the situation demanded. A middle-order batsman who took to opening the innings, Gooch could be described as a versatile batsman, a man for all seasons. He has the distinction of featuring in the finals of all the three World Cups that he played in. He would probably be best remembered in the competition for the stupendous century in the 1987 semi-final against India at the Wankhede Stadium when he repeatedly swept the spinners to carry England into the final.

But back at the start, Gooch’s maiden appearance in the World Cup at Lord’s against Australia in 1979 was a happy one, unlike his Test debut in 1975. As Australia floundered, finishing at 159 for nine in 60 overs, and England too made a disastrous start with Geoff Boycott and Derek Randall falling with only 5 runs on the board, Gooch walked into a difficult situation. But he was soon stroking fluently and was the aggressive partner in a match-winning stand with skipper Mike Brearley. They put on 108 for the third wicket, falling only after taking the side within touching distance of victory. Gooch scored 53 off 96 balls with 6 fours, the only half-century in the encounter and bagged the man-of-the-match award in his first outing in the premier event.

England finished runners-up in all the three World Cups that Graham Gooch played.
England finished runners-up in all the three World Cups that Graham Gooch played.

The Canadians were not expected to pose any challenge. Sure enough, they were shot out for 45. Gooch was unbeaten with 21 as England romped home by eight wickets.

He played a critical role in the low-scoring keenly fought win over Pakistan. Walking in with England tottering at 4 for two, Gooch top-scored with 33 and helped put up a reasonable total.

His run of successes continued in the semi-final against New Zealand. Once again he pulled the team out of trouble, hitting a glorious 71 off 84 balls. He put on 58 for the third wicket with Brearley, and 47 for the fifth with Ian Botham. How crucial his knock became evident as England scraped through by just 9 runs. Inevitably, Gooch was named man-of-the-match.

Gooch was again among the runs in the final, albeit fighting a lost cause. In the face of the West Indies’ massive score of 286 for nine in 60 overs, the English openers Brearley and Boycott - plodders at the best of times - put on a century opening stand, but consumed as many as 38 overs to score 129. Gooch put on 48 in only 7 overs for the third wicket with Derek Randall. But it was an uphill task. Gooch fell for 32 off just 28 balls with 4 boundaries, as the famed West Indies speedsters took their side to a second successive World title. But Gooch had had a fine tournament scoring 210 runs at an average of 52.50, a key element in England’s march into the final. 

After missing the event in 1983, Gooch was back at his best when the tournament moved away from England for the first time, to the Indian sub-continent in the autumn of 1987. He was now opening the innings and laid the foundation for a memorable win over the West Indies in their first match at Gujranwala. He scored 47 as England scraped through by two wickets with just three deliveries to spare.

Chris Broad figured with Gooch in two fine opening stands. They blunted the Pakistani attack in a partnership of 52 before the lower order fell like a house of cards. Four days later, Gooch and Broad put the Sri Lankan bowling to the sword, raising 89 runs upfront. Gooch added another 53 for the second wicket with skipper Mike Gatting. His splendid 84 off 100 deliveries with 8 boundaries provided just the platform for Allan Lamb to launch a furious assault and post a total that was beyond the reach of the Lankans, even as rain played a part later.

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Gooch registered his first real failure at Karachi against Pakistan, being dismissed by Imran Khan for 16 as England lost by seven wickets. He was, however, back in prime form in the return encounter with the West Indies at Jaipur. He hit a brilliant 92 off 137 balls with 7 fours, thereby completing 2,000 runs in One-day Internationals. It was, as it turned out, a match-winning knock which earned him the man-of-the-match award.

He did not let up in the next match either against Sri Lanka at Pune. He raised 123 for the first wicket with Tim Robinson as England made light of Sri Lanka’s score of 218 for seven in 50 overs. Gooch hit up 61 off 79 balls, crashing 7 boundaries, and won his second man-of-the-match award in succession.

That merely whetted Gooch’s appetite. In a carefully devised strategy in the semi-final on an under-prepared Wankhede Stadium pitch, he took the Indian spinners by the scruff of the neck and swept almost every delivery, sometimes from outside the off-stump. He smashed 11 fours in his 136-ball knock of 115 runs, his first century in a remarkably consistent sequence in the World Cup, and the fifth in a glittering One-day career. He added 117 for the third wicket with skipper Mike Gatting as the Indian plan went awry. This won Gooch his third man-of-the-match prize in a row, a rare distinction that Lance Klusener emulated in 1999.

The unlikely finalists at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta, were Australia and England. It was a keenly contested affair as Australia posted a formidable 253 for five in their 50 overs. After the early loss of Robinson, Gooch and Bill Athey put on 66 for the second wicket. But Gooch was trapped leg-before by Simon O’Donnell for 35, and despite some solid middle-order batting, England fell behind, losing by 7 runs. It was a major disappointment for Gooch, having come so close to the title. He was the highest run-getter in the tournament and one of the major influences, amassing 471 runs at an average of 58.87 with a century and 3 fifties.

In 1992 Gooch was captain but, at 38, past his prime. Still, he could produce fine displays of his wonted batting skills, as he did in the lung-opener against India at Perth. His opening partner was another great veteran, Ian Botham. The burly allrounder fell early but Gooch carried on unrelentlessly. He posted 110 runs for the second wicket in association with Robin Smith. Gooch notched up another significant half-century before being dismissed for 51. His team scraped through by 9 runs.

He was in awesome form against the West Indies too. Chasing a small total of 157, he belted the Caribbean attack, figuring in an opening stand of 50 with Botham, of which the latter contributed just eight. Gooch then put on another 55 for the third wicket with Graeme Hick before England romped home by six wickets. Gooch scored 65 in his 101-ball stint studded with 7 hits to the fence.

Gooch failed to reach double figures for the first time in the World Cup in his 16th innings, and that too on a spiteful, damp Adelaide wicket. As the ball swung around in the humid conditions, Pakistan were shot out for 74. There was then just enough time for Gooch to be caught behind by Moin Khan off Wasim Akram for 3 before the heavens opened and the match was abandoned.

But Gooch put this unpleasant experience behind him in the very next match against Australia at Sydney. He posted 107 runs for the first wicket with Botham. Both hit up half-centuries bringing back memories of the days of yore. Gooch scored 58 as his batsmen coasted along to register an easy win. It was a 112-ball vigil during which he hit 7 fours.

That was, sadly, the end of Graham Gooch’s brilliance with the bat in the World Cup. But he had had a tremendous run of scores in the premier event. By then in 17 innings spanning 13 years, he had hit a century and 8 fifties, scoring 858 runs at an average of 53.62. 

Thereafter he missed two matches and was dismissed cheaply against the two weaker sides in the tournament, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. In the semi-final, Gooch was caught behind by Dave Richardson off Allan Donald for 2, and England were lucky to win, aided by a crazy rule for rain-interrupted matches.

Also read: 3 batting legends to score a pair on Test debut

The final saw a determined Pakistan outfit under Imran Khan steal the show. Gooch was just beginning to regain his touch when leggie Mushtaq Ahmed had him caught for 29. England finished second-best twice-in-a-row. Nevertheless, Gooch ended up as one of the most prolific scorers in the competition, having accumulated 897 runs, the third highest at the time after the inimitable duo of Javed Miandad and Vivian Richards. 

There is little doubt that Gooch was one of the finest, and played a stellar role in England’s consistent performances in the World Cup. He shared with two all-time greats, Vivian Richards and Sachin Tendulkar, the record of five man-of-the-match awards in the event before Lance Klusener, Sanath Jayasuriya, Glenn McGrath, and AB de Villiers joined the club, and the Indian maestro raced far ahead in 2003. 

Graham Gooch was the rock on which the side rested over such a long period. He was a hardy batsman who hit the ball with immense power. With him went a generation of world-class English batsmen, leaving a huge void that the new crop found difficult to fill. Indeed, Goochie was a gem.

Graham Gooch’s World Cup batting and fielding record:

Matches: 21, Highest Score: 115, Runs: 897, Average: 44.85, Strike-rate: 63.21, Hundred: 1, Fifties: 8, Catches: 3

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