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March 30, 2012
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Series/Tournaments: England tour of Sri Lanka
Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, has jumped to the defence of his embattled captain Andrew Strauss as doubts intensify about his international future.
With England slumping to their fourth straight Test defeat, Strauss' batting form has become a far greater issue than when a winning side was laying claim to the No. 1 Test ranking that they are now on the brink of surrendering.
Strauss refused to be drawn into speculation over his future when pressed following England's 75-run defeat in Galle where he contributed 26 and 27 to England's efforts before falling trying to attack Rangana Herath on both occasions.
Since the start of the 2010 England season he has averaged 32.55 from 22 Tests with just a lone hundred against Australia at Brisbane in November of that year. From that point his average dips further to 28.52 with a highest score of 87.
Gooch, though, remains convinced Strauss can return to the form that marked the start of his captaincy stint when he took the job in chaotic circumstances for the West Indies tour in 2009 and struck three hundreds in the series.
"If you get defeats you're going to get tough questions," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, Andrew Strauss is the best guy to captain England at the moment and he and Alastair Cook are the best opening batsmen in the country. I have every confidence in him. I see the passion, the commitment every day on the training pitch, trying to improve his game. The way he's trying to play spin, approaching his innings with a more positive mindset, the attacking shots he's looking to play.
"We all know that as the captain you're praised if things do go well and you take the flak if they don't. He's a big lad and he'll be able to take it on the chin and he'll be doubly determined to do well in the next game."
Gooch led England in 34 of his 118 Tests so knows all about the pressures of combining the two jobs although his record suggests that captaincy was always an inspiration for his batting. As captain, he averaged 58.72 against his overall figure of 42.58. He expressed confidence that Strauss would emerge from the toughest period of his captaincy.
"He's having a bit of a lean time in Tests but he scored a hundred at SSC [in the warm-up match] so he's had runs under his belt and he's been practising well," Gooch said. "You have to take it on the chin when things don't go well. There have been plenty of Test captains who have struggled. We have to remain faithful to all our players and believe in their ability. A few months ago we were winning Tests, in different conditions, and I'm confident these guys, including Andrew, will come good.
"More importantly, each player has to believe they're going to do well. You've got to remain solid, keep your nerve and believe in your technique. Andrew Strauss has an excellent Test technique, he has been a very successful player for England in the past and I have no reason to believe he won't be a successful player in the future."
England's batting problems are not just focussed on Strauss. Although Jonathan Trott made one of his finest Test hundreds in the failed chase in Galle, and Ian Bell showed signs of return to form with a half-century, England laboured for the fourth match in a row. Alastair Cook received a good ball in the first innings (as did Bell) but the visitors were also guilty of further soft dismissals.
"Having lost four on the bounce, you know you need to master the conditions much better," Gooch said. "Since I've been in Sri Lanka I have seen guys working on their game, buying into the ideas being put to them and really trying to improve. Improving your technique, shaping it against the turning ball in particular, is not a quick fix. You have to work on it. It's the mindset, the way you approach your innings, how you mix attack and defence, how you get good habits into your game, the way you're going to play with the spin, the way you're going to defend."
The sweep was a major factor in England's dismissals although Trott avoided trouble and also brought out the reverse option when slip was left vacant. The conventional sweep was a shot that Gooch used profitably, particularly during the 1987 World Cup on the subcontinent, but admits the impact of DRS means the shot now comes with greater risk.
"The sweep against the turning ball is an alternative, but we have to look at the fact that with DRS, if you're sweeping off the stumps there's a lot of risk there. It's an area we need to look at. I wouldn't advocate leaving it out altogether but you have to be more selective."
Edited by David Hopps
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