England in India 2012-13 December 10, 2012

Gooch predicts Cook's best still to come

As if the last couple of weeks have not contained enough bad news for India, Graham Gooch had a little more for them: as far as Gooch is concerned, the best of Alastair Cook is yet to come.

Cook's batting has been one of the major differences between the teams this series. In three Tests, he has contributed three centuries and his tally of runs - 548 at an average of 109.60 - is more than Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh combined.

But Gooch feels Cook, who will be 28 on Christmas Day, has not yet reached his peak and will inevitably break Gooch's own record as England's top run-scorer in Test cricket. Gooch scored 8,900 Test runs, while Cook currently has 7,103. Only Kevin Pietersen, of current England players, has more with 7,335.

"In my opinion," Gooch said, "the years between 27 to 35 are the best years for a batsman because you have honed your knowledge and you know your game. I think he's got his best years in front of him. He's got to stay fit and motivated but nothing at the moment would suggest to me that that won't happen. I hope to hang on in this job until he goes past my record."

Few know Cook as a cricketer as well as Gooch. Not only do the pair of them, as Essex and England opening batsmen and captain, have much in common, but Gooch was the batting coach at Essex as Cook was developing and now performs the same role with England. He has watched Cook at close quarters throughout his career and, while Gooch admits Cook has never been the most eye-catching player, the skills that have served him so well at the top level were apparent very early.

"Alastair was on the Essex Academy and it was pretty obvious he was going to be a good player," Gooch said. "I can't remember the first time I saw him but I do remember him keeping wicket and batting for our Board XI against Essex in a proper match."

That match was a Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy game from 2003. Cook, opening the batting and keeping wicket for Essex Cricket Board against Essex, only scored 27 in the match, but his maturity stuck in Gooch's mind.

"He tends to get on the front foot now a bit more later in his innings and he plays a very resolute game outside off stump. He's worked very hard over the years."
Graham Gooch on how Cook's technique has developed

"My early memories of him as a person were that he was very mature for his age and very balanced and considered. He went about his cricket in a methodical sort of way and you can still see that now. The priceless ability he had when he was young, and again you can see this now, is that he knows exactly what he can and can't do. He puts that in place and into practice and doesn't step outside that.

"You know the old saying? It's not how, it's how many. He knows the way to play. Often young players coming up have talent and ability to strike the ball but they don't quite know how to manage their ability. Sometimes it dawns on them later in life and sometimes it doesn't dawn on them at all but this lad had it from the beginning. He knew how he could operate.

"He applies a certain type of game in Test cricket that works. When he came into the one-day side a lot of people said he didn't have the game for it but smart players find a way. And he plays a different sort of game in one-day cricket. He's not a power player but he keeps it moving and his runs-per-balls ratio is very good. That shows the skill of the man in being able to adapt.

"He tends to get on the front foot now a bit more later in his innings and he plays a very resolute game outside off stump. He's worked very hard over the years. He practices the sweep and hitting the ball over the top and it's good to see him showing confidence in selective sweeping against the turning ball. He's had success with that and also has the confidence to use his feet and come down the wicket. He's starting to enhance his game.

"Maybe he's thinking back to the Pakistan series in 2010 when he had a bit of a nightmare and thinking 'I'm going to get every run I can now because it's working for me'. I'm in good form and I'll cash in."

Gooch is also impressed by Cook's leadership since being appointed Test captain. Not only has Cook set a record - centuries in each of his first five Tests as captain - but has led England to a 2-1 series lead in conditions in which many expected them to struggle.

"Captaincy has enhanced his run scoring already," Gooch said. "It's difficult to look into a crystal ball and say whether it will affect him down the line but all the opportunities are there for him. He's mentally strong, that's his greatest asset, and he could achieve a lot of things. There's a lot of cricket in front of him and that can affect you but I'd like to think he will go all the way. He'll certainly go past my record in the not too distant future the way it's going and good on him because he'll deserve that. He's mastered his art to a degree and is always looking to improve. If he delivers, England win matches.

"I think we've seen already in the dressing room that he's prepared to make his own decisions. He doesn't always take the coaches advice in that he wants to do it his own way. He'll make mistakes and he won't get it right every time. You have to grow into that job, the way you get the best out of people, counsel them, and make tactical decisions. All those things come into it. He's in his infancy but I don't see any reason why he won't be a good captain and leader of men."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo