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December 2, 2013
Graham Gooch was up indecently early as usual. Once the media had been despatched, he had a chat planned with two England batsmen. It was just routine, he insisted, but he did not hide the fact that the art of dealing with a sledging fast bowler, banging it in short with the crowd baying for blood, would be somewhere on the agenda.
It all seemed a little late in the day. Adelaide will lack the hostility of the Gabba. It has a drop-in pitch these days, but it has always taken pride in its drop-in crowd. "Do drop in later, we'll put something on the barbie." At the Gabba, as Australia hastened to victory, an English batsman smelling burning would have expected to be served up as the main course.
When it comes to combating mental disintegration, Gooch, in his role as England's batting coach, can only teach so much. There must have been a time early in his career when he found the sledging slightly unsettling, and as the end came, the short, quick stuff must have seemed even shorter and quicker than it once was, but you don't become England's most prolific Test run-maker if you are unsettled by a word or two. Memories for the most part are of him phlegmatically padding around his workshop, the blacksmith perspiring at his anvil, giving the ball a smite now and then and looking forward to the chance to slake his thirst at the end of the day.
"We talk to the players every day," he piped. "I've got two players coming in now - that's the job. Coaching is building a relationship with someone. You discuss things: how you deal with things mentally, how your technique is, how you look to build an innings, score runs. How you look to approach things if someone's trying to verbally intimidate you.
"It's always been the way with bowlers and some teams down the years to try to intimidate batsmen. It's nothing new, it's part of the game and you have to accept that. I don't think anything that happened in Brisbane we haven't seen to some degree in the past. You have to handle it. It's part of being a success in international sport. It's about being the complete player and handling the mental side as well as the technique and the conditions.
"If someone comes with sledging, people deal with it in different ways. Some people it motivates, makes them play better, more determined; some people it can unsettle. But generally sledging is about getting you to play the man and not the ball, to get your focus off the ball. In my career, the players I've seen who've dealt with it best either smile at the opposition or take it as a compliment. Generally if you get sledged, you're doing okay."
Gooch observes Joe Root, the baby of the England batting line-up and nods approvingly. Gooch used to look impenetrable; Root grins at the fun of it all. At least short-pitched bowling, backed with a tirade of abuse, would allow him to sit on the back foot and try to take his pleasure where he can.
But Jonathan Trott's departure has left England in a quandary about who should bat at first drop. You most notice the rock when it has been dislodged. "Whoever moves to No.3 - and it's probably fair to say that Joe Root and Ian Bell are the two candidates - I'm sure they'll stand up for England," Gooch said. "You start off with a plan and you'd like to stick to it all the way through but players have to be adaptable. If these things come along, someone has to move and do the job. The decision has not been made but obviously it will be talked about in the next couple of days."
The irony is that many English observers, and perhaps players too, relished the pitch at the Gabba even as England were being trounced on it. Too many England Test wins, home and abroad, have been dredged out on slow, unresponsive pitches. Against opponents, too, without a fast bowler cranking it up above 145kph. Matches have been won, minds have been deadened. The challenge has been one of attrition, patience and logic. Now Australia have thrown a wilder game at England, a more physical, aggressive brand, and they have been excited by the sensation that destroyed them.
"The pitches are great over here," Gooch said. "It was a fantastic Test wicket at the Gabba. There were stages when we were batting when things were calm, but then things got a bit out of hand, the crowd whipped it up a bit and we didn't handle the situation as well as we should have, so we've got to improve. To get dismissed twice for under 200 is very disappointing. You're not going to win any games of cricket if you do that.
"Johnson had a great game at Brisbane and I take my hat off him. He took nine wickets and you'd be lauding any bowler on any side who took nine in a Test, so congratulations to him. He bowled fast and inconvenienced a few of our players with the short ball, but short bowling has been around since the game started. We have to deal with it better this game."
His philosophising almost over, Gooch's thoughts began to turn to his chats with the players - unnamed - who were next on his list for guidance. What were England's plans for Adelaide's drop-in wicket? "We have a simple plan: play better, okay?" he said.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala