The Ashes 2013-14 December 2, 2013

Batsmen have to accept sledging - Gooch


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.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Krishna on December 3, 2013, 23:32 GMT

    I would love to see this series either drawn 1-1 or 2-2 going into the Sydney Test. Won't that be something else?

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2013, 21:58 GMT

    I also remember in 2005 when the aussies were beaten, then england went to pakistan only to get hammered by Shoaib Akhtar......

  • brendan on December 3, 2013, 21:45 GMT

    People do say that the scoreline of 3-0 in England flattered the hosts but I came away from that series thinking Australia had forgotten how to win...and how were they going to fix such a problem? Brisbane changed all of that. This is the most exciting moment in Australian cricket for a number of years; a hungry, well organised team playing as a unit and bringing the opposition to its knees. There are 4 more tests to play and I think we are in for a breathtaking series. This is set up as a test match connoisseur's dream. I love test cricket.

  • Soumik on December 3, 2013, 20:03 GMT

    Australia lost 4-0 in India and 3-0 in England. They only have won one test at their own backyard and they are on the ascendancy and on the way to rule the world?Hilarious.This series is only one test old and there are 4 more to go.It's amusing from a neutral fan to see the way the Aussies go about their business.I have been readin some amazing posts by some of the Aussie fans and I kind of took note of them. Next time they tour India I would replace pace by spin and fast by slow and see how the same script looks like to them.India lost 4-0 is Aus and Aus lost 4-0 in India.Aus lost 3-0 in England and England may loose 3-0 in Aus (for argument sake).No team is absolutely dominant nowadays, so why is so much talking?

  • disco on December 3, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    @Someguy only 5 out of 30 Ashes Tests at Adelaide have been drawn.

  • Mark on December 3, 2013, 4:34 GMT

    @chicko1983 - There does appear to be a lot of good young fast bowlers coming through in Australia, not a lot of spin talent or batsmen are standing up and demanding attention though.

  • Tim on December 3, 2013, 1:56 GMT

    @bouncedout, Faizan_Bahadur: England won 3-0 in England by winning 3 or 4 sessions of cricket. If Aussies had won a couple of those, it would have been a completely differnent scoreline. England werent 3-0 better than us then and England have done nothing to improve since then. Aussies on the other hand have in form players (Warner, Haddin, Clarke, Smith, Johnson, Harris and Lyon all in form) and the upside of the Aussie players is much greater than the English, who are past their peak. The POMs thought their 2010-11 team was one of the greatest ever, ha! They beat the worst Australian team ever, big deal. With the Aussie bowlers about to come through (Pattinson, Cummins, Starc, Hazelwood, Cutting, Coulter-Nile, Sayers, Richardson, McDermott, etc) the next 10 years of Australian dominance is about to become a reality. Can't wait!

  • Mark on December 3, 2013, 0:45 GMT

    @Faizan_Bahadur - England may have beaten Australia 3-0 only a few months ago, but the scoreline flattered England, it was a lot closer than that. They won the first match by 14 runs with a few appalling umpiring calls. They were saved by the rain in 2 others.

    And that was on pitches designed to reduce the impact of Australia's fast bowlers and increase the impact of Swann, while also targetting Australia's weakness against spin. Australian pitches are a completely different ball game.

    Adelaide will possibly be a draw because it is generally a bowlers graveyard, but I expect Australia to win at least 2 of the final 3 matches if we can keep our fast bowlers on the field.

  • Jon on December 3, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    I think the Aussie guys are right, no point playing the rest of the tests. Obviously going to be 5-0 to this invincible Aussie team backed by the never seen before tactics of sledging and short fast bowling. In fact I agree with the view that the last series was really won by Aus and the result should be altered to 3-0 to Australia to reflect their utter dominance.

  • Murray on December 2, 2013, 23:11 GMT

    Gooch knows all about mental disintegration. His response to Alderman's challenge was the best example of it ever seen ! I didn't know external forces could cause it.

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