As a child, Graham Gooch's favourite meal was spam and chips. Second was bangers and chips. He was also quite a fan of corned beef, with chips.

Aged 16, on his first cricket tour, he was stationed with a family in Kenya. On the first night, he sat down at the dinner table with John Emburey, who would become a lifelong friend. Their German host, a rather fierce lady not fond of small talk or, it seemed, teenagers, shoved a plate of sauerkraut hash below their noses. There were no chips in sight. Disaster. Young Graham and John looked at each other with dietary dread. Not a morsel was touched.

It provides an easy analogy; you are what you eat, or you eat what you are. While we may imagine David Gower dining out on caviar and Ian Botham hunting wild boar to spit-roast over a roaring fire, Gooch's fondness for processed meat and chips - not those fancy European frites, of course - is very much in keeping with the Man, the Character. Stodgy, unpretentious, homely, unfussy. Gooch: the most English of English cricketers.

This week we get to celebrate him once again, for it marks 20 years since Gooch played his last Test innings, which came 20 years after he had played his first. He finished with a customary walloped drive, straight back at Craig McDermott, the ball striking the bowler in the shoulder, popping up in the air and dropping into his hands. Just 12 balls after receiving a standing ovation from the Perth crowd on his way out to the middle, he was offered another on his way back to the dressing room. Behind him, on 28 fields across seven countries, he left 20 Test centuries and 8900 runs - still an English record.

Aged eight, and idly watching TV, my interest in this trouser-wearing sport rocketed from zero to, well, 333 as this moustachioed man-bear transformed what had seemed a dull sport played by dull people

Five years earlier, Gooch had been my unlikely conduit to cricket. Aged eight, and idly watching TV, my interest in this trouser-wearing sport rocketed from zero to, well, 333 as this moustachioed man-bear, standing with bat raised like he was daring the Indian bowlers to take him on, transformed what had seemed a dull sport played by dull people. I had my first cricketing hero.

Yet Gooch stood against everything I would come to love in sportsmen. My heroes would come prefixed with anti: Akram, Maradona, Miandad, Cantona, Le Tissier. Gooch was a straight cop in my town of tricksters, rascals, inventors and mischief-makers. He was patriotic. He was fitness-obsessed. He mishandled Gower. He captained the 1982 rebel tour to Apartheid South Africa. Hero material these things were not.

You can't help your first love, though. And there will always be something irresistible about a batsman who takes the game back to its basic instinct: whacking the ball as hard as he possibly can. And, on that July day when cricket took me, Gooch whacked the ball as hard as he possibly could for longer than he ever had done.

Gooch was 37 when he made his 333 (to put that into perspective, since the turn of the millennium only two Englishmen - Alec Stewart and Shaun Udal - have played Test cricket for England past their 37th birthday). By that point Gooch had already been a Test player for 15 years, and it was my duty as a dutiful hero-worshipper to, firstly, immediately start supporting his county side Essex and, secondly, catch up on what he had already achieved.

Before I had even been born, Gooch had got his international career up and running in the shadow of Packer, had sat on the balcony as Dennis Lillee sauntered out with an aluminium bat, watched from the other end as Michael Holding bowled one of the most famous overs in Test history to Geoff Boycott, lost his form entirely to become a footnote's footnote in the 1981 Ashes, and played in Sri Lanka's inaugural Test.

That match, in Colombo in February 1982, came a month before the rebel tour, two months before I was born and three years before Gooch would again play for England. When I finally caught up with him, in 1990, it felt like he had been batting since the dawn of cricket.

Although I came in at the tail-end of his career, what a parade it became. Gooch had started 1989 thinking he perhaps had another couple of years left as a Test cricketer, and hoped to push his centuries tally into double-figures. Instead, he was made Test captain at the end of the year, played for another six, scored over 4000 more runs and made a further 12 hundreds.

Eleven of those centuries came as England captain, and three of them are deserving of a place among the very best in Test history: the 333, his famous lone-ranger against West Indies at Headingley in 1991, and his less remembered 135 out of 320 at the same venue a year later. Facing an attack of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis (who took 43 wickets between them in that series), Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed, Gooch masterfully, obstinately led England to a series-levelling victory.

In the very next Test, the series decider, my world changed. Akram, bowling like he was cruising down the motorway with the top down, cigarillo in one hand, hair billowing, destroyed England's rabbity lower order with a black-magic spell of 5 for 18 in 7.1 overs. I was smitten.

Gooch didn't fall to Wasim that day. My first hero blunted my new hero, just as he had Marshall, Hughes, Ambrose, Waqar, Donald, Hadlee, Bishop, Walsh and Kapil across two decades as a Test cricketer. What a wretched time to be a batsman, but what a rewarding time to be one of the great batsmen.

Yet Gooch did it with little fuss, little fanfare. He remained spam and chips throughout his long career, he remained the most English of English cricketers and, as Frank Keating once wrote, "Gooch's noble cricket had, in itself, ennobled cricket".

Daniel Brigham is a sportswriter and editor. @dan_brigham