As rain lashed across the Smith Road Oval, Cayman’s top cricketers huddled inside the tiny pavilion to hear words of wisdom from one of the legends of the world game.
The weather prevented Graham Gooch, the former England captain, from doing any training ground work with the players who gathered to meet him Saturday morning. But he was able to pass on some tips to the island’s national team.
Gooch, who was England’s all-time top runscorer until being overtaken by his protégé Alastair Cook, had some special advice for the batsmen, telling them concentration was the key element of their art.
“Cricket, particularly batting, is a unique type of sport, unlike bowling or golf or tennis,” he said.
“In those sports, if you make a mistake, you get another chance 20 minutes later. If you’re a batsman and you make a mistake, end of your day.”
In his presentation, Gooch tried to hammer home the importance of a professional attitude, even for amateur athletes, telling them, “If you prepare well, you play well.”
Speaking to the Cayman Compass, the 64-year-old, in Grand Cayman for a four-day fundraising weekend to benefit the Cayman Cricket association, said he sees great potential to develop the sport on the island. He took part in a golf event on Friday and a summer party at Morgan’s Seafood Restaurant on Saturday.
“The hospitality has been fantastic,” he said.
“We are trying to spread the word about cricket in the Cayman Islands. That’s what I am doing here, trying to raise the profile of the game and make some improvements.”
Though he has mixed feelings about the growing dominance of Twenty20 cricket internationally, Gooch believes the short format offers the best avenue for the Cayman Islands to make an impression in the game.
He pointed to the wealth of talent that has emerged from small Caribbean islands to feed the West Indies team as evidence that size is no barrier to success. But he believes the first challenge for Cayman’s cricket authorities is to drum up enthusiasm for the sport among young people.
“At this stage, you have to get the interest in the game. The way to do it is to look at Twenty20 and invest in development coaches who can go to the schools, spread the word of the game and get youngsters a grounding in what the game is all about from a very young age.”
Internationally, Gooch is concerned the importance of longer format Test cricket – still considered by purists to be the truest form of the game – is diminishing amid a proliferation of Twenty20 leagues, where players can earn big money moving from one franchise to another.
“It is difficult to keep the integrity of both games playing side by side. Because of the financial rewards of T20 and these competitions, the players are focusing on that,” he said.
Another concern is England’s form in the Test game, after a 4-0 Ashes drubbing at the hands of Australia and defeat to New Zealand this winter.
“We’re not travelling well. We weren’t close in any of the matches in the Ashes and although we professed that we were in the games, I am not so sure. We have to see what we can do about our away form.”
Despite those misgivings, he is still confident that in home conditions, England can do well against Pakistan and India in successive Test series this summer.
One bright spot toward the end of a miserable Ashes tour was the return to form of Alastair Cook, with a magnificent double hundred in the fourth Test.
Gooch, who coached Cook as a young player at Essex, believes there is plenty of runs left in the opening batsman, who surpassed his record to become England’s all-time top scorer in 2015.
“He’s a great player, a great guy, a dedicated guy and he deserves the success he has had. I was delighted that he was the one who took the record. There’s a few more years left in him. If he’s got the desire, the will, the skills, and he’s certainly got those, he could play on for two or three more years. If he does that, he will have a record to be reckoned with.”
One challenge that Gooch faced during his career, which modern batsmen do not have to contemplate, was the genuine menace of a full fire West Indies pace attack.
“West Indies in that era were a very strong side and they had a particular brand of cricket with four fast bowlers that was difficult to compete against,” he recalled.
“All eras are different and it is hard to compare but in the 80s against the West Indies, you earned all the runs you scored, that’s for sure.”
Hector Robinson, vice president of Hector Robinson,, said Gooch had caught some stick from the West Indies fans on the golf course about the battering England had taken in the 80s from the West Indies.
“He was a lot of fun and he took it well,” Mr. Robinson said. “He told us his worst experience against a fast bowler was facing Patrick Patterson in 1986. It was the first time he was fearing harm to himself. Patterson was not the best bowler he faced, but certainly the most dangerous.”
Mr. Robinson said the weekend event was about raising funds and awareness for the sport. He said the proceeds would go to Cayman Cricket, which is currently investing heavily in youth programs.
“This type of event is very important for bringing attention to the sport in Cayman and giving an impetus to the program. We want people to see the effort that is being made and that we are sufficiently serious to attract people of the stature of Graham Gooch here to give their stamp of approval to the program.”