Magazine article The Spectator

Captains Courageous

Magazine article The Spectator

Captains Courageous

Article excerpt

IT was with an odd sense of regret that I learned that Graham Gooch will be retiring. He started his last first-class cricket match this week. As coincidence would have it, I watched Mike Gatting whack a cheery 85 for Middlesex off the Australians that same weekend. Both men are former England captains, both carried on playing - and playing well - deep into their forties, both are now England selectors. Gatting will be delighted to have outlasted Gooch, but how much longer will he carry on?

Both were late developers. Gooch famously began his Test match career with a pair, a blow from which only the exceptional recover. Gatting struggled for years to translate his routine county batterings into achievement at the highest level. He finally made his first Test match century when the England team was on its uppers. This was in India, after Indira Gandhi had been assassinated and, a few days later, an English diplomat murdered. The team was depressed, distressed and fearful. Gatting set personal angst aside and rose to claim his own.

Both men are thoroughly good eggs. If they were a couple of sticks of rock, they would say cricket all the way through them. But this has not prevented them both from having turbulent careers or being banned from Test cricket, or being strangely reduced by the mantle of England captaincy.

Gooch was the first to be banned, for going on the first of the `rebel tours' to South Africa, those half-forgotten propaganda exercises for apartheid. Because of his general good-eggery - a genial, outgoing chap with a flair for impersonating other cricketers - he was made captain. The side was soon known as `Gooch's Rebels'. Gooch was forced to defend the moral purpose of the tour to a hostile media. Ill-equipped for the role, he fell back on boot-faced sporting professionalism: just a game of cricket, and I'm a cricketer. He retreated into the laager of his own darker nature, and in public never emerged. …

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