March 18, 2014

Coached by Goochie

How many of us can claim to have attended a masterclass with England's most prolific run scorer?

Gooch and his dog thrower have honed the technique of dozens of England players © Getty Images

Halfway through the television interview he gave to Sky last Sunday, Jonathan Trott reflected on some of the outrageous fortune he had had during his time in the game.

"I mean, if you'd told me when I was a kid that Graham Gooch would be my batting coach…" he paused, still a little awed, "I'd have laughed at you."

Well, a couple of weeks ago, for one happy afternoon, he was my batting coach too - sort of. We were at the indoor nets at Lord's, less than a hundred yards from the scene of his most famous feat, innings of 333 and 123 against India in 1990, still the highest aggregate of runs in a single Test match. That mighty achievement should be enough for any lifetime, but Gooch holds an even more singular record: with 67,057 runs across all formats, he is the most prolific batsman in the history of the game. He has scored more than Tendulkar, more than Hobbs, more even than Grace. He's 60 years old now, and steely grey on top, but that bear-like shuffle is as familiar as ever. There is something about him, though, that mitigates against stardom. Perhaps it's his strict adherence to his Essex roots or his legendary distrust of the limelight, but he carries none of the aura of a Boycott or a Richards. He is just completely at home when surrounded by cricket - the nets might as well be his front room.

He was at Lord's to help run a PCA Masterclass. Beside him stood John Emburey, the other half of his long-standing double act, along with Paul Nixon, Matthew Hoggard and Chris Adams. Gooch had spent the morning testing a series of bats for All Out Cricket magazine, and it was a treat to stand behind him as Emburey hurled the ball down from 18 yards or so. Gooch drove at them unerringly, the bats making a series of deep sonic booms as he hit in a pure and effortless way. Emburey threw one hard at his legs - Gooch wasn't wearing pads - and revenge was swift, the next ball whistling past Embers' right ear, still rising as it ripped into the netting behind him. They both smiled. It's hard to imagine Goochie wielding anything other than his giant SS Jumbo, but it's probably fair to say that he would have made plenty with the supercharged willows of the modern era.

Soon, 30 or so enthusiastic amateur cricketers of various age and ability had been allocated to a net and the masterclass was underway. Adams ran our net with a light touch, stressing the importance of set-up and intent in both batting and bowling. Hoggard dropped by to send down some tremendous late outswingers and the odd gleeful bouncer, and then came, what was for me, the highlight: the arrival of Goochie with his famous dog thrower. Along with the "daddy hundred", the device may be Gooch's most lasting impact on the coaching of cricket. The Ashes trauma should not conceal the weight of runs England previously scored with Gooch as batting coach, and along with the wisdom built up over a lifetime at the crease, that trusty dog thrower, heavily gaffer-taped from handle to middle, has helped to tweak many a rogue trigger movement and straying backlift. He demonstrates a fizzing bouncer and a deadly yorker, and if I achieve nothing else in the game, I can sit around a futuristic fireside and remember the day that I faced up to Graham Gooch and the fabled dog thrower.

Afterwards came an enlivening q&a session that fell silent only once, when he was asked why Kevin Pietersen was sacked by England. He stared back into the room for a long time, an implacable look on his face. That little secret, and the deeper mysteries of how to score all of those runs, was his alone to keep.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here