If you browse through our interview library, you’ll see we have been fortunate to interview some absolute legends of the game, but this interviewee is not just a legend, he’s a true great.
The challenge I had preparing for this interview was how do you fit Graham Gooch’s achievements into a one-hour conversation?! Thankfully, he very kindly gave me as long as I needed, and we spoke for close to two hours!
When Graham was appointed England’s permanent captain in 1989 it coincided with the period when my passion for cricket really started to grow. I won’t lie – there was a Gooch poster or two on the bedroom wall. And I think there’s something about your first ‘true’ captain, a bond that will never be broken. They always remain the true leader. Unless they were useless of course!
The other challenge when interviewing a great is where do you start? The 333 against India, that hundred against the West Indies, the famous win against the West Indies in Jamaica, the 1992 World Cup? The list goes on, and on, and on…. Thankfully we covered them all.
We also covered his love of West Ham United. When I was preparing for this interview, I mentioned to Herbie that I was interviewing Graham and if he had any cricket memories, he wanted me to ask? “Ask him who is favourite all-time West Ham player is,” was Herbie’s response. So, let’s keep Herbie and Saint happy and start there…
“Well, I’m a lifelong West Ham supporter,” said Goochy, enthusiastically. “I was born in East London and my Dad was born close to West Ham’s ground. I’ve been going to watch West Ham ever since I can remember and without doubt my favourite is Bobby Moore. A hero, a leader, an ambassador and just a complete role-model. He was the one I always looked up to and seeing him lift the World Cup is a thrill which sadly we’ve never seen again since.”
Anyway, enough of the claret and blue. Were there any cricketers who shared ‘hero’ status with West Ham’s World Cup winning captain? “I didn’t really have an English cricketing hero if I’m honest because obviously cricket was not broadcast on the television in those days, like it is now. However, I suppose on a cricketing front it would have been Gary Sobers.”
So, with the lack of television coverage who was the early close cricketing influence? “My father was my coach, well he wasn’t a coach, he was just my Dad, but he taught me how to play cricket. I didn’t have any formal coaching until I was about 13 when he took me to Ilford Cricket School where I was introduced to a guy called Bill Morris who was taking the coaching courses. He played for Essex in the ‘50s, a white Jamaican and a very good coach. He was strict but a huge influence.”
After playing junior cricket for East Ham Corinthians, Graham joined Ilford – a last minute decision having been close to joining Walthamstow. It turned out to be an important move. “I was going to play for Walthamstow after moving on from East Ham when I was about 15 but Bill Morris played for Ilford, and he persuaded me to play for them.”
The reason it was important was because of the club’s close ties with Essex. And later that same year Graham was making his debut for Essex’s second team, as a wicketkeeper!
Yes, you read that right… “At the time Essex were captained by a guy called Brian Taylor, who had played for England in the 50s. He was a wicket-keeper batsman who was coming towards the end of his career and they thought I had potential as a keeper-batsman! So, I genuinely made my debut for Essex’s second team when I was 15, keeping wicket and batting at number 11!”
It’s fair to say the keeping didn’t last long and there might have been a tad bit of frustration at batting 11… “Well I wasn’t very accurate with the gloves, but I thought I should have been batting at least 10. They had some cloggy bowler at 10, I at should have been in front of him.”
For four years Graham juggled his cricket with an engineering apprenticeship. “I wasn’t really that academic and my father wanted me to do an apprenticeship in Engineering. I did that for four years, which meant that I could only play for Essex’s second team in my holidays, so I played sporadically over the next few years. I did go on an England young cricketers’ tour to the West Indies in 1972 and then when I finished my apprenticeship in 1973, I signed for Essex. I made my debut for the first team that year as an amateur, there were quite a few amateurs in county cricket during that time. I played mainly in one day games batting at 7 and 8, and I was bowling a little bit by then.”
Graham’s early promise saw him turn professional 12 months later and his early performances for Essex in their 1st XI saw him picked for the first of his 118 Test matches at just 21 years of age. “I was quite fortunate. Keith Fletcher took over the Essex captaincy after Brian Taylor retired. Keith was in and around the England squad so when the Test matches were on, I’d get my chance in Essex’s championship side. I did okay in that first year, but I ended the season with a first class hundred against Leicestershire where Ray Illingworth was captain. The following year I was making my England debut against Australia.”
It’s well documented that, that Test didn’t go entirely to plan as Graham bagged a pair in the 1st Test of the series. One more Test later, he was dropped. “England had taken a bit of a kicking and were looking for some fresh blood for that series and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’d only been playing first-class cricket for a year and a half really when I was selected at Edgbaston. The majority of that squad had been playing for 5-10 years and were household names, I was the only one that wasn’t. It was quite a surreal experience for me, as I’d grown up watching these guys and now, I was playing with them. I wouldn’t say I was a fish out of water, but it was obvious I was the new boy.”
Graham shared one entertaining story and insight into cricket back in his formative days… “In that period, you used to turn up the day before a Test match, you’d have a pointless net session and the night before there would be an obligatory jacket and tie dinner you had to go to. The selectors would be there, the chief executive of the host ground would be there, all very different to today. Anyway, on the evening before my debut, all 12 members of the squad were there. I was told I was going to be playing as it was obvious a bowler would be missing out. One of the selectors was Sir Leonard Hutton who is arguably England’s greatest ever batsman. I saw Sir Leonard on the morning of the game at breakfast and he came up to me, and said, ‘Graham, congratulations on making your debut against Australia, the old enemy, the cultural challenge, the history, the mother country, the colonists’ and all that. I thanked him and told him I was looking forward to it. Anyway, three weeks prior to the Test, I scored 75 against Australia in a tour game. Sir Leonard then asked me ‘have you ever played against Australia before?’ I looked at him and I’m thinking, you’ve selected me for my debut, and you don’t know I played against the Aussies a few weeks ago. I didn’t know what to say, so just said ‘yes, Len, at Lords a few weeks ago’, he responded ‘oh, I don’t watch much cricket these days’. He was a selector! The Test itself obviously didn’t go well for me. These are not excuses but there had been a lot of rain leading into that game and in those days, we played on uncovered pitches. Generally, on uncovered wickets when it had rained, you’d bowl first. I’m not blaming Mike Denness, he was a good guy, a top man, but he elected to bat. We got bowled out for a hundred. In those days you also had a rest day, on the rest day it poured down and I was batting again the day after. In the first innings I was caught down the leg side and in the second I got a good ball. Would it have been different had we bowled first, who knows. In the second Test I got 30 odd, but Mike resigned, and Tony Greig took over, and I don’t think he really fancied me that much as a player, which is fair enough, he had his own ideas.”
Graham’s response was to head back to Essex and score a mountain of runs. And three years later he was back in the squad. “I played a couple of one-day internationals the following year but what really changed for me was when our Essex captain Keith Fletcher was left out of the England side. He came back to Essex and pushed me up to open because he thought it would help my game. And it did because it made me realise that I needed a structure. In those early days I had the talent but there was no structure. Becoming an opener gave me that structure.”
Graham also took that time out of the England side to concentrate on his fitness, something years down the line, his captaincy was famed for. “I used to play football in the winter and then I took up running and a little bit of gym work. There was no organised fitness training in cricket in those days. None at all. You had pre-season but then it was just wall to wall matches. So, I worked on my own to get myself fitter, stronger and more alert. I then opened the batting in 1978 and everything changed. I became more consistent and a better player.”
Graham was recalled for the 2nd Test of the series at home to Pakistan in 1978, and scored an excellent 54 in the first innings, opening with Mike Brearley. Graham’s performances that summer in 5 Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand (which included two 50s and a 91 not out) saw him selected for the winter Ashes tour to Australia.
Graham scored just shy of 250 runs on that tour, but he recounts how his wife managed to show him video footage of his technique and he wasn’t overly keen with what he saw.
“The aunt of my then wife, was quite wealthy and she had one of those Philips VHS video recorders and was able to record some highlights from the series. I didn’t like what I saw. I realised I was over-hitting the ball to the leg side too much. So, the next big change in my game was changing my stance and that was a game changer for me in terms of success. Effectively it straightened up my technique and it all started to happen then really.”
I asked Graham when he reflects on his early career both for England and Essex what were his favourite highlights?
“The first big highlight for me was when Essex won the B&H Cup in ’79, and when we won the championship for the first time ever. I scored 120 in that final and helped win the game, but what you’ve got to remember is that Essex had never won anything in 103 years. We had quite an emerging team, which went on to become a very successful team over the next decade but going into that final we were always reminded that Essex had never won anything. So, winning that first trophy was a big thing and then winning the championship with a month to go was also huge. Reaching the World Cup final with England was a high, even though we got blown away by the West Indies in ’79.”
One controversy in those early years was the 1982 Rebel tour to South Africa, a tour for which Graham was appointed captain, and a tour which was to cost him his England place for three years. I asked Graham how difficult that period was and if he had any regrets over his decision to go.
“There was a hell of a lot of adverse media coverage because obviously we were the first organised side to go to South Africa to play. What I would say is that I was a professional cricketer, and playing cricket was the only way I had of earning a living. I was not contracted to England, my contract with England on the tour to India and Sri Lanka had finished. As county players we were contracted from the 1st of April to the end of September, and then it was a case of ‘bye-bye, we’ll see you next April’. Some players went down the private touring route. I obviously went to South Africa which we knew wouldn’t go down well. Now the thing is lots of players played cricket in South Africa for provincial sides and club sides, but we went as a team and it obviously attracted a lot of bad publicity and we ended up getting banned for three years. People always ask me would you make that decision now or if I knew I was going to be banned for three years, and it’s quite difficult to say. At the time you make decisions in good faith and you have to stick by them. My parents and my wife took most of the hit back in the UK, with the media outside their houses and all that stuff. The error I did make was agreeing to be captain. When they picked the squad, they didn’t have a captain and they then asked me. Of course, when you’re the captain of any team, you’re the figurehead. The captain gets all the plaudits when you win and the flak when you lose, which isn’t quite right but that’s the reality. I shouldn’t have agreed to be captain.”
Graham was banned from international cricket for three years, but the three years he lost for England was Essex’s gain. “It was a big deal for me not to be playing for England, but it was a profitable time for me at Essex because we won the championship in 1983 and 1984 which I thoroughly enjoyed playing a full part in. I don’t just like cricket, I love cricket, so for me I never prioritised England or Essex. I treated playing for either exactly the same. I enjoyed everything about the county circuit. So even though I was banned from international cricket, it was not a bad time, if you see what I mean.”
Also, during that period Graham actually played two years in South Africa for Western Province. “I loved playing at Newlands, which is my second favourite ground after Lord’s. it’s a great place to play. I obviously don’t support Apartheid and we did our best to introduce non-white players into the side.”
Graham returned to the England side in the summer of 1985. “I played a couple of one-day internationals against Australia, which was a big relief.”
It wasn’t just a relief, Graham scored back to back hundreds. “It was a relief because there was a lot of pressure coming straight back into the side. I had been outside of the team for three years and it was nice to represent my country again. Playing for your country is the greatest honour any sportsman can have bestowed on them.”
Aside from missing the 1986/87 tour to Australia for personal reasons, Graham became a mainstay at the top of England’s order for the remainder of his career.
Everyone remembers Graham’s captaincy in the early 1990s, but he was also one of the four captains to lead the side in the crazy summer of 1988, when England were being pummelled by the West Indies. “You have to really look at the context and history behind that crazy summer. Mike Gatting was captain in the 1987 World Cup where we had a very good side. We got to the final but didn’t get it right on the day against Australia. Gatt then had the incident with Shakoor Rana and then an alleged hotel incident early in 1988 so he had black marks on his card and he was removed from the captaincy after the 1st Test. My best mate John Emburey got given the captaincy for the next two Tests, but was then left out of the 4th Test because spin wasn’t needed. Chris Cowdrey took over for one game, but then got injured, so I got the job for the last Test.”
Graham scored 84 in that Test match and captained the next Test, a one-off Test against Sri Lanka. Everything look set for him to enjoy a long period as England captain, but the winter tour to India was cancelled, because the Indian government refused to grant visas to the England players, including Graham, who had been on previous rebel tours to South Africa.
It was the beginning of a difficult period for English cricket. David Gower was reappointed England captain, ahead of Graham for the 1989 Ashes series against Australia. A series which saw Graham horribly out of form, England crushed 4-0 and another rebel tour about to rob England of a number of players.
After Gower’s resignation, England finally gave Graham the job he deserved full-time. It was a shrewd move as what followed was arguably Graham’s greatest period as an England player. “Captaining England gave me a greater edge, a greater responsibility to perform and to carry myself in the correct way and set an example. Thinking back to my hero Bobby Moore, as a kid I admired the way he led his country, the way he acted, the way he led from the front. All those things had a positive effect on me. I never subscribed to the view that captaincy puts pressure on people. It’s a great honour and you should use it to your advantage, that’s what I think I did.”
He certainly did. Graham’s first assignment was to take the team to India – quite ironic given what happened a year previously – for the Nehru Cup, a tournament held to celebrate the anniversary of former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday. England reached the semi-finals before bowing out to eventual winners Pakistan.
Graham’s second assignment that winter was the famous tour to the West Indies. A series which England lost 2-1, but which if it hadn’t of been for rain could have seen England go 2-0 up against a side who had enjoyed unprecedented success over England for many years.
“It was not a good time for English cricket, when I was asked to captain the side. I was basically informed that senior players like David and Ian Botham would not be considered for selection and the selectors wanted to blood some new young faces to take English cricket forward. Players like Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart came in. We had Jack Russell, David Capel and Devon Malcolm who had only come into the side briefly in 1989 in the squad, so it was a completely new-look England side. We were given nil chance at even getting a sniff at winning the series. But in that 1st Test we played as a team and completely outplayed the West Indies. I can’t comment on how they approached the game or whatever, but we deserved to win that Test and we should have won the second. I broke my hand, Gus got injured as well, and we had the debacle with the light and all that rain which cost us. It would have been a tough game to win but if it hadn’t of rained, I think we would have won it and we would have been 2-0 up and the series might have been completely different.”
I asked Graham to put into context just how strong that West Indies side were. “They were such a powerful bowling side, with a four-pronged attack, it was always difficult to score runs, and they were blessed with batsmen who everyone would pay money to watch.”
Did having a squad of players who were not necessarily haunted by previous heavy defeats help? “In the prior series we’d got beaten 5-0 and 4-0, but they weren’t just hammering us, they were hammering everyone. They were dominating world cricket, home and away. I just think the selectors quite rightly wanted to introduce some new players and we got to start again and get some new players in who could take our cricket forward through the next decade. People like Nasser, Alec, Jack Russell, Gus and Devon were around for a long period of time after that series.”.
One bowler in particular, who was on that tour who could have become a great, if it wasn’t for injury, was Angus Fraser. “Gus was a top, top bowler. That hip injury which kept him out for a few years, cost him a bit of pace. Don’t get me wrong he was a fantastic bowler for England but how good he could have been if it wasn’t for that injury. On that West Indies tour, he hit the pitch hard and very accurately, he was absolutely world class.”
One player who didn’t make the trip was an opener who was to become an excellent foil for Graham 12 months later, Mike Atherton. “We had a choice in young players of Nasser or Athers. I wanted to have Nasser because obviously I knew him at Essex, so Mike was a bit unlucky to be left out of that trip but obviously he came back in the following summer and proved what a world-class player he was.”
The following summer was of course the summer of 1990 and that Lords Test against India, when Graham scored his famous 333. “What I have to say is that year was fantastic for batting. If you look up county cricket scores during that year there was runs everywhere, for everybody. 1989 was the complete opposite – the ball moved everywhere.”
Strong batting conditions maybe, but a player still has to score them.
“At the time I was well into my thirties, captaincy had had a positive effect on me, and I believed in my game a lot more. I’d found a way of going on and on and never giving starts away. In that innings I just got into a rhythm and it’s amazing how you can then just go on and on. And big scores win matches, don’t they?”
This was the point of our conversation when Gooch the coach was shining through and Graham reiterated to me, what he must have reiterated to so many batsmen down the years, the importance of time. “In the modern game, players are always in a rush. I’m not advocating blocking but generally because the type of cricket teams play now, players are in a bit more of a rush. Patience is not the watchword nowadays, although Dominic Sibley is doing his bit for that type of play. It’s so important in Test cricket to just build and build. A Test match is a long game, five days, you’ve got to build. You can’t win a Test on the first day, but you can certainly lose it. I learnt as a player to go on and on. Scoring runs is not a chore, you must enjoy it. The great Kenny Barrington always told me you must never give your wicket away because the next time you go in there might be a ball with your name on it, so cash in when you can.”
When you hear Graham talk like this, you just think why don’t Test cricketers put down the Xbox and just watch DVD after DVD (or VHS!) of our great players. Who knows, maybe they do. “The first 50 runs are always the most difficult for a batsman. You’re finding your way, you’re trying to get in, you’re facing pumped up bowlers and it can be quite hard work. The second 50 you’re sort of adjusting yourself to your rhythm and your style of play and not stepping out of that style, if you see what I mean. And then if you get to 100, you see a lot of players get out for 105, 110, 115 because they relax, and they’ve achieved their goal. But why give it away then? Reaching a hundred should then be about enjoying your buffet. Help yourself because there’s generally only one person who will get you out after you reach a hundred and that’s yourself. Once you reach a hundred it’s the easiest time to score runs, so cash in.”
Graham’s words are true, but probably wasted on me. I found it hard work to reach 10! In fact, at Windsor Cricket Club, we all did, apart from the great Scott Martin – he definitely followed Graham’s advice. The rest of us however…
Now, many people quite rightly will remember Graham for his 333, but for many supporters, his greater hundred was his 154 not out against the West Indies at Headingley in 1991. This was an innings when he carried his bat against that mighty West Indian bowling attack in extremely overcast conditions. “It’s always satisfying to score runs when the conditions are not in your favour. I always say it’s not always the amount of runs you score, or the number of wickets you take but it’s when your performance turns the game. So, for a batsman the games that are the most important is when you score runs in bowler-friendly conditions and for a bowler it’s when you take wickets on flat pitches, that’s what changes a game. In the context of that innings at Headingley, Headingley was always an interesting place to bat. You could score runs there if the weather was set fair but if it wasn’t, it could be tough. I always told players that when conditions are not in your favour you can’t look at it as a negative. You’ve got to think this is why I practice; this is why I get up and train and put myself through everything I do. This is when you challenge yourself, and you must want to challenge yourself against the best. That was my thought process in that innings.”
England drew that series against the West Indies 2-2, and I asked Graham if at this point in his captaincy, did he feel that English cricket had turned a corner, after the disappointments of the late 80s?
“We were making progress. I was happy with the progress we were making but of course in that era through the ‘90s, when I was captain and afterwards, we were a talented side, but the trouble was we were very inconsistent. We found it difficult to maintain good performances over 3 to 5 matches. That was our issue. We got beaten by Australia comfortably in the winter after that West Indies series, despite getting into a number of good positions. They were able to wiggle out of tight holes, we couldn’t and just collapsed. And that was the story, I would say, of our cricket in the ‘90s. We were more than capable but we weren’t consistent.”
I asked Graham what he put that down to? Was it the fact there were no things like central contracts? “I don’t know. Central contracts obviously came a lot later, but we won series, and played well, it’s just when we came to the big series against Australia, we came unstuck. In the early to mid ‘80s we dominated them when they were in a bit of transition, it then went badly wrong for us in ’89, ’91, ’93 and ’94 which is when I gave up. We just weren’t consistent enough and they were stronger, had better character than us, and were more determined than our cricketers were. At the end of the day we were not mentally strong enough I’m afraid, and it took time to get that right.”
A big highlight during Graham’s time in charge was of course the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, when the side reached the final. Many will say, up until the class of 2019, that squad in 1992 was arguably our best ever one-day outfit.
“Similar to ’87, we played brilliant cricket in that tournament. We had a good side packed with all-rounders, and top batsmen like Alec Stewart, Graeme Hick, Neil Fairbrother and Robin Smith. What happened to us was we peaked just a bit too soon. When we got to the final, we’d probably already played our best cricket and again like in ’87 we didn’t get it right on the day. Pakistan were abysmal at the start of that tournament and if the game hadn’t been rained off when we played them at Adelaide, we’d have beaten them – we had bowled them out for about 70 before the rain came. And if we had won that game they wouldn’t even have gotten to the final. No matter what sport you play, in tournaments you don’t really want to play your best stuff right at the beginning. You want to play well enough to get through and then peak at the right time, which is the end of the tournament and that’s exactly what happened to Pakistan in that World Cup. They were playing good, confident cricket by the time the final came. In the final one or two things didn’t go our way which probably would have made a difference but it’s all ifs and buts isn’t it? You just don’t know. Obviously, I would have liked to have won a World Cup final, that would have been the icing on the cake, but it wasn’t to be.”
Post that World Cup, in one-day cricket, England never reached those heights again until Eoin Morgan took charge. “There’s no sugar-coating it I’m afraid. We were really poor. We never had a good enough team or played the right type of cricket until Eoin took over. Eoin Morgan’s done a brilliant job with the selectors and the players. The players they have now are very aggressive and they have quality bowling, with good variation. ’92 was a brilliant side and I don’t have many regrets in my career but playing in three World Cup finals and losing all three was one of them.”
Graham eventually stood down as captain towards the end of the 1993 Ashes – the series that saw Shane Warne make his entrance into Ashes cricket.
“Any professional sportsman wants to challenge themselves against the best. Shane was new on the scene then, but it was fairly obvious he was going to be a star, which proved to be the case. You couldn’t have got a better start in Test cricket, could you? I remember in that 1st Test, it was a damp wicket. Peter Such made his debut for England and got six wickets. We thought it was going to swing and seam because the wicket was wet. But none of us thought Shane would ever bowl a ball like he bowled to Gatt. A leg spinner gets a lot of revs on the ball and variations which a finger spinner doesn’t have but their accuracy sometimes is often lacking but one of Shane’s biggest attributes was his control. He bowled very straight to right-handed batsmen and gave you nothing. If a wicket offered him little, he tied an end up, but if the wicket was helpful and accommodating to him, he’d bowl sides out. People don’t talk about his accuracy as much as they should do because that was one of his biggest assets. Shane revolutionised and brought leg spin bowling back to the fore in Test cricket in that series.”
And was giving up the captaincy a difficult decision? “It wasn’t that difficult because I’d been captain since 1989 and hadn’t won a trophy or an Ashes series. I was not a young man, I was 40, I’d had a good series with the bat, but it was time to hand over to a younger man. You don’t want to hang on to a job if you think it’s time for someone else to play a new tune. I still feel that I was capable of scoring runs in Test match cricket, which proved the case for another year or so, but we had other players come into the side, such as Graham Thorpe. We’d lost the Ashes and it was the right time to step down.”
Graham did have one more Ashes in him though, when he was named in the 1994 squad down under alongside Mike Gatting. “Gatt and I were both selected and on reflection only one of us probably should have gone on that tour. He played quite well in that series. I’d had a good series against New Zealand that summer and wanted to do one more Ashes trip. The strategy was I was going to bat at 5 and Alec Stewart and Athers would open. I was comfortable with that and Athers wanted to do it because I’d then be most likely batting when Shane would come on to bowl. It didn’t transpire that way though as Alec Stewart busted his finger and I ended up opening in all the games. It was funny though, because a lot was said about Gatt and I being on the trip and yet we were only two that stayed fit for the whole trip! The end was nigh though. If you look down the scores in that series, I got 50 in the 1st Test, a few 30s and 40s, I got some starts but I didn’t capitalise on them. That’s when it dawns on you that your time has probably come. That something special you had is starting to leave you. At that point you really want to go out on your own terms rather than someone tell you that’s the end. So, I made the decision, I think Gatt did as well, that we retire at the end of that series and that was the right decision.”
What a record though. 118 Test matches, 8,900 runs at an average of 42.58. At the time of retiring Graham was England’s greatest run-scorer of all time.
“I played another couple of years for Essex and did okay. But in December 1996 my father died, and he had wanted me to play one more season, so I did but the same things happened. I’d be scoring 50s and then getting out and so I retired halfway through the season because it just wasn’t happening. You do know when it’s time to go.”
In those final years at Essex, Graham was already planning for life after playing.
“During those final years at Essex I became a selector while I was still playing, which was okay. It used to get me out of a bit of fielding sometimes if there was a meeting I needed to attend! At 43 years of age, if you get someone else to do the fielding for you it was always okay!”
How did those years as a selector go? “The team was in transition. The ’99 World Cup didn’t go well; David Lloyd was coach and then he packed up and Duncan Fletcher came in with Nasser and that was a time where we got to revamp the whole system. I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it was England’s finest hour as a team in the late ‘90s but we had good series. We beat South Africa in ’98 when Alec Stewart was captain. But it was still the same as the early 90s. We were capable but not consistent. Then central contracts arrived, and it was pretty much the start of what you are seeing now.”
After his selection responsibilities finished, Graham moved into coaching, initially at Durham.
“I spent four years at Durham doing the batting coaching part-time. I’d go up there maybe forty days a year and really enjoyed it. They worked hard at developing their own players. They originally came into the county championship on the back of a lot of ex-stalwarts. Ian Botham obviously played for them, as did Wayne Larkins, Simon Hughes, and others. But they worked hard at developing their own. Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison were just starting out when I was there. I’ve got a lot of time for Durham and what they tried to do. Obviously, a few years later they won the championships and some cups. Durham is a lovely part of the country and they were lovely people up there and I enjoyed that experience, hugely.”
And then in 2002 came the opportunity to coach Essex full time. “We managed to get promoted back to the first division in my first year. I spent four years or so as head coach. I signed Andy Flower which was a great as he became like an on-field coach to us. But it got to about 2006 and I didn’t want to run the team anymore. Paul Grayson took over and I remained as the batting coach. Andy of course left us for England to become their batting coach and eventually head coach in 2009.”
And it was while Andy was head coach, they he asked Graham to join England’s coaching team as batting coach.
“One day I was working for TMS at Trent Bridge when he came up to me and asked me if I’d like to come and work for England. He said that as he’d taken over as head coach, he couldn’t look after the batting side, so he needed someone, and do I fancy it. It didn’t take me long to say yes. At first, I came in part-time. I remember going out to South Africa to make my sort of inaugural address to the players. I then did the series in England in 2010 against Pakistan. You try and impart your knowledge but my philosophy on coaching is you’ve got to get the trust of people. It’s no good going in and trying to tell people what to do. At the end of the day it’s the player’s career, they’re the master, not the coach. You try and help them, you give them options, you give them ideas, you give them suggestions of what you think will help them. But it’s their role is to shape their own careers and you try and help push them in the right direction but ultimately you can’t force a performer to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Hopefully they take onboard what you say and then they develop their own style and their own way of playing. I had four and a half years in that role and I really enjoyed it.”
Graham got to work with some of England’s finest, and England’s batting didn’t only become solid but the likes of Strauss, Cook and Trott would build foundations for the likes of Pietersen, Bell and Prior to prosper, batting in the mould of Graham Gooch in his prime.
Graham’s close relationship with Alastair Cook is well-known and I asked him how proud he was to play such a big part in Cook’s development and success. “It makes you proud when anyone plays well for their club or for their country. And obviously Alastair was the rock of England’s batting for a decade or more. He progressed as a player, he was always very strong-willed, strong minded and mentally tough. He developed his technique over time, and he won lots of matches for England with a style of batting which was completely suited to Test cricket. But he also did quite well in one-day cricket. His record wasn’t that bad at all. He might not be a guy who’s plants the ball into the 20th row but he scored off lots of balls and he always kept the scoreboard moving. He hit the ball into gaps, and he manoeuvred the ball around very well.
And what’s Graham up to now? “Well, I’ve got a couple of roles. My main role is an ambassador for Essex, which involves corporate work, hosting guests, doing various things for sponsors, and I’m also on an advisory board for the club. I don’t get involved in the coaching or selection or anything like that, that’s down to the coach and captain. I’m president of the PCA and an ambassador for them. I used to do lots of after-dinner speaking and lecturing and that sort of stuff but of course given the present situation that’s all fallen by the wayside.”
It won’t take long for those speaking engagements to return – there are too many stories to teel, and knowledge to impart.
But what an incredible story and an incredible guy. I mentioned Graham’s 8,900 Test match runs earlier, but in total he scored just shy of 45,000 first-class runs (at an average of 49.01), over 4,000 ODI runs and over 22,000 List A runs. And that’s why he’s a great of the game.
Oh, and you can add to that 600+ wickets across all formats as well!
Graham – thank you!!