Gooch defends struggling batsmen
Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, has come to the defence of Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, the two batsmen in the current line-up whose form is under the most scrutiny following a summer marked by dramatic and seemingly unpreventable batting collapses. While Pietersen's quest for his first Test century in 26 innings will get underway - weather permitting - during Friday's second day at Lord's, Strauss's current struggles were exacerbated by a peach of a delivery from Mohammad Asif, who bowled him through the gate for 13 to take his own string of century-less innings to 23 and counting.
Given the habitually overcast skies under which this series has been played, and the skill levels of Pakistan's new-ball pairing of Asif and Mohammad Amir, Gooch insisted that neither man was especially out of form, and that the squad as a whole was remaining sanguine about the challenge they have been posed by some talented opponents. However, he also suggested that many of the players in the team needed to relearn the art of building an innings in bowler-friendly conditions, with the inference that the onset of Twenty20 cricket had eroded a degree of the patience they might have shown in the past.
"Ideally you'd like a big score every time but you have to play to the conditions," said Gooch. "The players are in a good place in terms of their preparation, but the collapses have been talked about, because conditions like this require a different mentality. The ball is moving around and let's be fair, the Pakistan attack are decent - they swing it around and get something out of the pitch - so it's a challenge, that's for sure."
Gooch, who has been involved with the England Test squad on a consultancy basis since last winter's tour of South Africa, insisted that Strauss was not out of form despite a current series tally of 155 runs at 25.83, adding that opening batsmen are programmed to accept early dismissals against the new ball as part and parcel of the game. On the subject of Pietersen, however, he suggested that the player was in need of "upgrading" his game to suit the player he has now become, five years on from his England debut.
"Three weeks ago, I spent a week working with KP here at Lord's, and he works tremendously hard," said Gooch. "He respects his practice and puts in the same amount of work as if he was playing a match, which is the right way. Obviously he's desperate to make a score, like any player, but he's got to transfer the way he prepares and practices into the middle, and that involves getting the balance between attack and defence right, or what I call how you manage your batting.
"Everyone has skills, it's how you apply those skills, and what balls you attack, and what shots you play against different bowlers in different conditions," Gooch added. "Everyone's game evolves, and KP has got to find the method that works for him at this moment in time. You might retain parts of the game you had before, but you have to upgrade and evolve."
Pietersen's top score this summer was a chancy 80 at Edgbaston that nevertheless enabled England to win the match, but he himself admitted after that game that he had perhaps taken too much of his form for granted from England's successful World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean back in May, in which he was named as Player of the Tournament for a tally of 248 runs from 180 balls, at an average of 62.
"There's a lot of Twenty20 cricket around these days, and maybe there is a bit of a cross-over and a conflict when each individual adapts from one format to the other," said Gooch. "If you play all the formats, you have to find the balance, because the game has moved on, but the basis of Test cricket has not moved on as much. To score a Test match hundred, you still have to have patience and discipline, because you're not going to score a hundred from 100 balls every time."
Strauss does not have quite the same conflict in his game seeing as he no longer plays in England's Twenty20 team, and as a former opening batsman himself, Gooch had fewer issues about where he is currently at with his game. "Low scores are part of the game," he said. "Every batsman is vulnerable when it's moving around, the key is to show good technique and have some good luck, because if you hold your technique and the ball seams, it might miss the bat.
"In the last two Tests he's been out too early to say his game is not working," Gooch added. "You accept days like today just as you do bright sunshine and a nice flat wicket. Every batsman gets low scores, the trick is to make it count when you get in. In the conditions we've had in the last month, there've been some decent balls going around, which is not an excuse, it's part of the game. But confidence only comes from spending time at the crease."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.