The golfer Joyce Wethered was once playing a crucial shot in a major championship when an express train suddenly thundered past. "Didn't the train put you off?" she was asked later. "What train?" she replied. The ability to forget the clutter of everything else and concentrate this completely is surprisingly rare, even among great performers in sport. But Graham Gooch had it in full measure.
And this skill, more the result of mental steel than any natural gift, was the single most important reason for the fact that, by the time he started his final match for Essex on July 23, 1997, Graham Alan Gooch, born at Whipps Cross in Leytonstone exactly 44 years before, had become the most prolific player in history.
One had sensed that he must be somewhere near, when all his limited overs runs had been added to his final tally of 44,841 in first-class games at an average of 49.11, but it took the computations of Robert Brooke to confirm for Wisden this stupendous fact. No single batsman, not Grace, nor Hobbs, nor Woolley, nor Boycott, nor any of his contemporaries in an age of proliferating fixtures, had made so many runs in top-class cricket as the pink-faced, heavy-limbed yeoman of Essex. He had, in fact, unnoticed, overtaken Jack Hobbs's total of 61,237 runs when he reached 67 in a Benson and Hedges Cup game between Essex and Gloucestershire at Chelmsford on May 9, 1995. He finished with 65,928 at 45.81. It is hard to imagine who might ever overtake him.
Gooch, unfortunately, chose to release the news of his retirement through a Sunday newspaper whose chief business is scandal-mongering, but he was always acutely aware of his own worth and the need to make the most of that. In cricketing terms that made him the dedicated professional par excellence: steady, sound, sober, solid. It is still a revelation to know that he was not just the latest, perhaps the last, in a long line of that sort of English professional batsman, but, by numerical proof, the hungriest and most acquisitive of them all. He surpassed men like Sutcliffe, Hutton and Boycott from the north; Grace, Hayward, Hobbs and Mead, from the south.
It seems natural to exclude Woolley, Hendren, Hammond and Graveney of the other leading batsmen, because they were somehow different in their nature and approach: more artists than accountants. Yet Gooch himself - and this makes his achievement all the more remarkable - belongs more truly with the entertainers: he was a magnificent sight in full sail. This was no dabber of singles, no delicate leg-glancer or specialist in the smooth caress of a half-volley through extra cover. On the contrary, he was a bold, imposing player: a mighty driver and fierce square-cutter, who looked at the crease to be taller and bulkier than be actually was, with a bat apparently broader than the law permits.
When I first saw him, for MCC against the Australians in 1975, he was still only 21 but he pull-drove Jeff Thomson into the Lord's Grand Stand for six, before repeating the treatment on Gary Gilmour. Six years later at Sabina Park, in the final Test of England's 1980-81 tour of the West Indies, he temporarily obliterated a ferocious attack of Holding, Marshall, Croft and Garner. Croft, hitherto bullyingly successful, was savaged for 56 runs in eight overs on a pitch which was hard and bouncy. Gooch cut him over third man for one six and hooked Marshall for another. He had made 103 out of 155 for two in the 40th over and 153 out of 249 when he was fifth out.
His greatest innings was one run higher and also against West Indies, at Headingley in grey weather on a tricky pitch in June 1991. It took him seven and a half hours. The forces arrayed against him were no less fierce: Ambrose, Patterson, Walsh and Marshall. Gooch was captain and more than just the backbone of his side. Throughout England's second innings, he virtually was the side. He carried his bat for 154 out of 252 and England went on to win. So they had, too, of course, when he made his 333 and 123 in a single Test at Lord's against India in 1990. These, however, constituted easier pickings.
This is all well documented. It is the all-round consistency, the excellence of his figures against all types of bowler - Terry Alderman's supremacy over him in 1989 was the result of a technical fault assiduously worked out and corrected - and, above all, in all types of cricket, which placed him above the players of his own era. Time and again, he shone on the major one-day occasion. He won nine NatWest match awards and 22 in the Benson and Hedges, both records. His 129 not out against West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 1985-86 was the most exciting, sustained one-day innings I have ever seen.
Viv Richards played these sort of innings more often. Gordon Greenidge, who played three more internationals than Gooch's 125, and Desmond Haynes, who played many more, scored more one-day international runs, and so have plenty of others, but no other Englishman. Of the top ten scorers in one-day internationals, all have played county cricket and know what it is to switch so often between first-class games and one-day matches of differing lengths. But when the totals of the modern greats are totted up, Haynes, Richards, Greenidge, Boycott, Amiss, Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Border, Jones, Boon and the rest all fall short of Gooch. The nearest in terms of innings played, Dennis Amiss, scored more than 10,000 fewer runs overall (55,462) from only 41 fewer innings. In all the categories except one-day internationals - Amiss played only 18 of them - his average is significantly lower than Gooch's. The difference is most marked in the Nat West and Benson and Hedges, in which Gooch averaged 48.98 and 52.28 to Amiss's 39.00 and 34.86.
All this does not, of course, make Graham Gooch the greatest player of his time but, even if we judge him only by the timeless yardstick of first-class cricket, ignoring the mind-wearying, sinew-stretching demands of the limited-overs game, his stature is clear. After the reduction in Championship matches in 1969, he alone scored above 2,000 runs in more than three seasons. He did so in five: 1984, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1993; another 56 runs in his last full season, 1996, would have made it six. He made eight first-class hundreds that year and, had he not promised his dying father that he would play one more year, it would have been the right note on which to finish.
It was one of the few occasions when he allowed emotion to supersede his cricketing judgment. What made him special was his capacity for hard work and rigid self-discipline. He earned every run.
|Benson and Hedges||5,176||114||15||198*||15||52.28|
|Refuge Assurance Cup||42||2||0||31||0||21.00|
|Nissan Sheild (South Africa)||297||9||0||60||0||33.00|
|SA rebel one-day games||162||3||3||114||1||54.00|
The following table shows the leading run-scorers in first-class and top-level limited-overs cricket:
|1||G. A. Gooch (10)||65,928||1,562||123||333||170||45.81|
|2||J. B. Hobbs (1)||61,237||1,315||106||316*||197||50.65|
|3||F. E. Woolley (2)||58,969||1,532||85||305*||145||40.75|
|4||G. Boycott (8)||58,030||1,302||203||261*||158||52.80|
|5||E. H. Hendren (3)||57,611||1,300||166||301*||170||50.80|
|6||D. L. Amiss (12)||55,462||1,521||159||262*||115||40.72|
|7||C. P. Mead (4)||55,061||1,340||185||280*||153||47.67|
|8||W. G. Grace (5)||54,896||1,493||105||344||126||39.55|
|9||C. G. Greenidge||53,094||1,311||105||273*||123||44.02|
|10||I. V. A. Richards (32)||52,755||1,248||122||322||139||46.85|
|11||W. R. Hammond (6)||50,551||1,005||104||336*||167||56.10|
|12||H. Sutcliffe (7)||50,138||1,088||123||313||149||51.95|
Christopher Martin-Jenkins is cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and a BBC commentator. Robert Brooke is a freelance statistician.