Monday, 21 August 2006

Do England still need Darren Gough?

It is undoubtedly true that Darren Gough is his own biggest fan. But the ODI series against Sri Lanka illustrated the inadequacy of those playing instead of him. Liam Plunkett, Tim Bresnan, Kabir Ali and Sajid Mahmood played 14 games between them; each went for over 7 an over.

Of course, the causes of the first three names were aided by their supposed batting prowess, and Duncan Fletcher’s desperation for numbers eight and nine to be capable batsman.

However, Gough could be the bowling all-rounder England are looking for. He was once considered an adequate test number eight; he made two half exhilarating half centuries in his first 10 tests. Yet, thereafter, his batting subsided. Indeed, the abiding image of Gough the batsman is selfishly slogging to leg and walking off with an enormous grin on his face.

But the Yorkshireman has been transformed as a batsman. He has averaged 57 in the Championship this year, including two fifties. In one-day cricket, meanwhile, Gough has enjoyed success as a pinch-hitting number three.

While his batting has surely convinced the selectors that he is good enough to bat at number nine – or eight at a push – it is his bowling that will ultimately decide his fate. Gough has done well in the Championship, averaging 28. He was somewhat disappointing in the C & G Trophy; but in the Pro40 competition, he has played three games and taken seven wickets at just nine.

His inclusion in the 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy was no surprise, in that he is undoubtedly amongst the best 30 one-day players in England. But it suggested that Duncan Fletcher has forgiven Gough’s decision to go onto Strictly Come Dancing rather than tour with England in Pakistan, and may now be willing to recall him.

Although he has done very well with the new ball in limited overs cricket for Essex, Gough was seldom able to take wickets with it during his last spell in the side. But his nous and skill at the death was still apparent. If he is to play again, he will surely be required to bowl during the middle of the innings and at its end.

Gough is a bubbly and enormously self-confident character. He would bring great experience to the side and could prove a terrific asset to the side until the end of the World Cup; equally, others could learn much from both his skill and temperament. However his constant grumbling over not being selected does raise a vital question. Namely, could he handle being a ‘squad player’, something he has never been for England? Would Gough moan – and perhaps damage team morale – if he wasn’t selected?

The bowler’s current murmurings of discontent are surely partly justified, in that many of the men selected above him are palpably not international class. Yet, though he may well merit a squad place, we must not fall into the trap of believing the 35-year-old is the answer to all of England’s one-day woes. For his displays last summer against Australia were very disappointing indeed.

Even so, Darren Gough is well worth a recall. It should be clear within a few games whether or not he still has something to offer; and it would be prudent to make those games against Pakistan so, if nothing else, England can eliminate him from their World Cup plans. What England do not want to do is continue experimenting with youngsters, in the hope they will prove up to the task, then return to Gough come the World Cup. Having reinvented himself as a bowling all-rounder, the talismanic figure could yet have a glorious swansong and further illustrate the mediocrity of many of those selected ahead of him.

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