In November 2009, Graham Gooch became a ‘consultant batting coach’ to the England team. This looked an inspired decision, as England started to put up huge totals on a regular basis and worked their way to the top of the world rankings. In February 2012, just after England had been summarily walloped in the UAE against Pakistan, Gooch became the team’s full-time batting coach.
Between November 2009 and the end of that Pakistan series, England made 14 scores over 450 in 44 innings. They reached 700 once and 600 twice. They declared their innings closed an impressive thirteen times in that period, nine of which were in their first innings of the match.
Since the end of their Emirates drubbing, England have made three scores over 450 in 43 innings. Only one of those was in excess of 500. They were able to declare just three times and not once did they do so in their first innings.
On the face of it, going from part-time to full-time doesn’t seem much of a big deal. But it is, by and large, the same set of players; Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior have all played virtually every single one of England’s matches since 2009. And there is a significant difference in their performances before and after Gooch became more involved. There have been a few changes around them but hardly enough to point to a clear reason for their decline in fortunes. So what on earth is going on?
Maybe the change is much more significant than it looks. ‘Consultant’ implies he’s used at the player’s prerogative: if they have a problem or want some advice, he’s available. As a permanent coach and member of the backroom staff, he’s presumably working with all the batsmen all the time, and going from consultant to coach suggests a change in the power base of the relationship. A coach has far more control, both over when to work with the players and over the strategy and direction of the team. In the – for want of a better term – ‘good’ period, England regularly scored at comfortably above three runs per over; often it was pushing four. In the ‘bad’ period that positive accumulation has virtually disappeared. Only in the attempted surge to victory at the Oval a few months ago have they scored 200+ at more than four an over.
Not only have England collectively leapt back into their shells but seem to have developed a wide assortment of technical, and perhaps mental, flaws as well. How, and why, has this happened? What is the Gooch plan to fix it? He took plenty of plaudits when the team were making “daddy hundreds” in abundance, yet since he was made full-time coach England haven’t made a single double hundred. If the players simply weren’t good enough the coach could hardly be at fault, but they evidently were good enough and now they are not. Questions have to be asked of his methods, his advice and what he is actually trying to do when the players under his tutelage are visibly regressing.
There is a long way to go in this Ashes series and plenty of time for England to redeem themselves. The most important thing is that this latest collapse is not dismissed as a one-off, because it is clearly part of an overarching pattern. That there is such a significant difference between England’s batting before Gooch’s full-time appointment and after suggests his position should be in serious danger. Once this batting order consistently dominated games from the off; since he came on board they have handed the initiative back to the opposition on an alarmingly regular basis. Enough is enough: fix it, or begone!