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1990s in Review

Wisden’s Test innings of the 1990s, No.2: Graham Gooch’s 154*

graham gooch 154
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Yas Rana revisits Graham Gooch’s 154* at Headingley in 1991, an innings which was voted in second place in Wisden’s 1990s in Review series.

No.2: Graham Gooch, 154* (331 balls)

England v West Indies, 1st Test
Headingley, Leeds
June 6-10, 1991

In 2011, on the 20th anniversary of Gooch’s Headingley knock, former England quick and Guardian journalist Mike Selvey argued that his 154 at Leeds was “an effort so monumental that it deserves to be ranked not just as the finest innings ever played by an England captain, or even the finest by an England batsman, but perhaps one of the truly great innings of all time.”

Since Gooch’s innings, Brian Lara, Kusal Perera and Ben Stokes have all played knocks widely considered to be three of the greatest of all time; three fourth-innings epics with euphoric endings. There is an argument to be made that when measuring the “greatness” of an innings, there’s an unfair bias made towards fourth-innings efforts. They’re more quantifiable as there’s a more pronounced, immediate pay-off. The excitement that’s felt at their culmination can extend to premature, if understandable, hyperbole.

So let’s quantify Gooch’s extraordinary 154. In the preceding 15 years – across 35 Tests – England had beaten West Indies just once. In fact, West Indies hadn’t lost a series to anyone in over 11 years and at Headingley they boasted a genuinely frightening quartet of quicks in Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson.

Going into the third innings, England led by 25 on a difficult pitch. Across the game’s first two innings, only Viv Richards and Robin Smith had passed 50 and 11 of the 20 dismissed batsmen had departed for single-digit scores. In that third innings, Gooch proceeded to carry his bat for 154 not out and was responsible for 61.1 per cent of his side’s runs, an England record that remains to this day. None of his teammates passed 30, only two – debutant Mark Ramprakash and Derek Pringle – passed six.

Battling adverse conditions as well as a vintage West Indies attack, Gooch’s concentration was undeterred by the numerous breaks in play. Ramprakash and Pringle played fine supporting hands, accompanying Gooch for a combined 286 minutes at the crease.

Though they survived admirably, neither they nor any other English batsman were able to convert that staying time into scoreboard pressure. Of the England batsmen, only Gooch struck at higher than 30 runs per 100 balls and it was that combination – to not only withstand, but counter an unrelenting attack to set up victory – that elevates this innings above the rest.

In all three cases of those aforementioned fourth-innings heroics, time accelerated as the finishing line approached. A tangible sense of panic radiated from the increasingly desperate fielding captains and – not to take anything away from any of the innings – with their retreated fields and those nearing targets, they almost felt like a different game.

Gooch’s 154* was a great innings in a very classic sense. He didn’t know what a match-winning score would be but in the end, England would win by 115. Gooch had comfortably surpassed what his team required of him.

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