While the Barclays Premier League season approaches the halfway mark, the sporting attentions of much of the country will turn to cricket this week as the Ashes begin in Australia.

England arrive Down Under having won the last three Ashes series and will be confident of winning four in a row for the first time since the 1890s.

One man who will have a key part to play in England's success is the country's record Test run scorer, current batting coach and lifelong West Ham United supporter Graham Gooch OBE.

The Official Website caught up exclusively with Gooch from Australia to ask him about the Ashes, the role of backroom staff in international cricket and how he will keep in touch with the Hammers from the other side of the world.

Graham, the Ashes are about to begin. England come into the series on the back of a 3-0 series win at home and victories in 2009 and 2010/11. Presumably, confidence is high that we can make it four in a row?

GG: "Confidence is high in the England camp, although our practice has been hampered by lots of rain. I think three-nil in our summer series was not true reflection on the standards of the teams it was closer than that. We will have to play a lot better to win here Down Under."

Both teams have a few injury niggles and selection decisions to make ahead of the First Test, so how important is it that every squad member can contribute to the cause?

GG: "Injuries as you know are a part of sport and it is important now to have a strong squad and not just a strong XI. Hopefully our injuries will clear up in time for the Brisbane Test."

As in a football match, how important is it for England to make a solid start to the series in Brisbane?

GG: "Getting a good start is important in a series as you need to make a strong showing, set the tone for the whole tour. For me, 2010 was a highlight in Brisbane. Alastair Cook scored a double hundred, Andrew Strauss a hundred and Jonathan Trott a hundred. A scoreboard showing 517/1 in oursecond innings can't be bettered."

A lot has been written in recent years about the growing backroom staff used by England. You have been in the set-up for 40 years, so just how have things changed behind the scenes in terms of support structures for players?

GG: "There are now many more backup staff than when I started, covering every aspect of the touring party from coaching to medical to security staff and media. On my first tour to Australia in 1978, there was a manager, assistant manager, physio and that was it. Presently here in Australia there is 17 backroom staff."

You famously trained with West Ham United during your playing days. How does the training done by international cricketers differ from that done by footballers? Do different types of player (batsmen/seam bowlers/spinners) do different types of physical training depending on their role?

GG: "Training for the players nowadays is different to the standard net practice of years ago. Training is now geared to stimulate the players, challenging their techniques their mental application. We stress training for fitness and concentration and above all encouraging them to think on their feet for themselves."

Concentrating on specific areas, performance analysis is something used widely at West Ham United. How is this tool used in cricket to give England an edge over the opposition?

GG: "Yes we have an analyst with us here in Australia. In fact England Cricket has a whole department focused on this aspect of the game. This work is very important in backing up the coaches in terms of real-time performance and feedback."

Nutrition has become a hot subject with the publication of the England 'cookbook' recently. On a serious note, how much have players' eating (and drinking!) habits changed and how important do you think it is for England's cricketers to eat the right things?

GG: "As for nutrition, the players are very aware and much more in tune with this than when I was playing. Across the board cricketers and much fitter and stronger these days, partly because every club has a department for strength and conditioning."

Graham Gooch

In football, goalkeepers are the only players who receive specific positional coaching on a daily basis. Do you feel football could benefit generally from cricket's more specialised approach to coaching? (eg defensive coaches, striker coaches, set play coaches).

GG: "Specialist coaching is important to look after every aspect of the players' skills. Here in Australia England have a head coach, batting coach, fast bowling coach, spin bowling coach, wicket keeping coach and fielding coach. Nothing is left to chance. I think possibly football could improve with this type of set-up."

You will be away from family, friends and West Ham United for months on end. How do you keep in touch and, more importantly, will you be able to catch the Hammers' matches on television Down Under?

GG: "With the Internet it is easy to keep in touch and up to date on all the Hammers news, plus I can watch matches and highlights on the TV."

Are there any other Hammers among the playing/coaching staff?

GG: "I think I am the only West Ham fan here. Sometimes with our results it's difficult to fight the Hammers corner here. We have to find some goals from somewhere!"

Football matches have often used as part of training sessions by cricket teams, presumably for a bit of light-hearted exercise. Who are the star players among the squad/backroom staff?

GG: "Sorry but I don't know because we don't play football as warm-up here with the team. It's too much of a risky for a possible injury."

Finally, watching England playing overseas on television, there is always an abundance of football club-related flags on show, including many West Ham United flags. Do you have much interaction with the supporters? How important is that 'away' support to the team?

GG: "Cricket supporters always are a great part of a cricket tour. It's fantastic to see the thousands who come with the Barmy Army. It makes a huge difference to the team when they are singing at the matches. The players love the songs and all that goes with it. They are a fantastic bunch."

*The Ashes First Test will start in Brisbane overnight between Wednesday 20 November and Thursday 21 November at midnight UK time, with the match being screened live on Sky Sports 2 HD.