CRICKET : The great White Rose hope as a confident young Yorkshireman reveals an explosive all-round talent that au gurs well for the future

Derek Pringle contrasts and compares England's new hero with a giant of the past
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The Independent Online
IT IS rare that an English cricketer earns the respect and admiration of the Pom-baiting Australian public. Ian Botham was the last, and it is inevitable that Darren Gough, who revived the tourists' fortunes so dramatically last week in Bothamesqu e manner with bat and ball, has attracted comparisons with the last great English all-rounder.

In this series, England have rarely been competitive, often careless, and occasionally incompetent, but Gough's chunky, willing frame has resisted the foe to win praise from all quarters. He has not been cowed by the Aussies, and with his two buzz phrases "Hurting Time" and "Kick Some" inscribed inside his pads and on the top of his bat handle, has shown an eagerness to trade blows with opponents who have blown away most of his team-mates.

So has Gough got what it takes to become a great Test all-rounder - someone whose batting average remains higher than his bowling while accomplishing the double of 200 wickets and 2,000 runs?

So far, so good. In his seven Tests to date, Gough has scored 244 runs at an average of 34.85, with a highest score of 65. The bowling makes even better reading with 37 wickets at 26.78 apiece, taken at an excellent strike rate of a wicket every 52 balls. While most of the plaudits in this series have gone to Australia's world-class bowlers, Shane Warne and Craig McDermott - both of whom have taken 21 wickets at an average of 15.52 and 20.66 respectively - Gough's 20 wickets at 21.25 stands proud comparison, particularly when it is remembered that neither of the Aussies have to bowl at their own batsmen.

There is, however, a real danger in relying upon figures to reveal truths. Shining beacon though Gough undoubtedly is - Atherton calls him "The Dazzler" - it has been far easier for him to stand out in a side performing so poorly. There are other caveatstoo, and although Gough's bowling ability has never been in question, he has been bowling fast only for a few seasons, and having already been sidelined with a hamstring strain, there are question marks over his ability to stay free of injury.

Longevity is the one of the paths to greatness and according to Dave Roberts, the England physiotherapist, Gough, like Botham before him, tends to ignore niggles and simply gets on with the job. "When Beefy pulled on an England sweater all his aches and pains went away," Roberts said. "Goughy is just the same. In England colours they just feel different and play different. They get very emotional about wearing the three lions on their chest." This is all well and good if niggles can be shaken off, but with Gough's workload they could become chronic.

Another question that begs an answer, is whether a player who has yet to be considered an all-rounder for his county can possibly become one for his country, particularly when Gough bats as low as eight or nine for Yorkshire. With a highest first class score of 72 scored against a Northamptonshire attack lacking Curtly Ambrose, the batting evidence, spanning five years of first- class experience, is more than a little flimsy.

Technically, Gough is not yet in Botham's class as a batsman, but he does share the same unerring eye for the ball. Watching him smite Craig McDermott back over his head was to rekindle fond memories of thrilling encounters now long gone. What Gough lacks is Botham's judgement and execution of shot, a quality that can only be learnt in many hours of combat against different teams in varied conditions.

Luckily for Gough, the step up to Test cricket is often more a mental than physical challenge; if the mind believes, the body will follow. Gough is convinced he can bat, which is important if he is to make the leap from an undemanding life as a clean striker with modest aims, to that of regular run-getter.

Quite clearly the desire is there. Still shy of his maiden first-class century, he was none too impressed last summer when a young debutant, Gavin Hamilton, batted in front of him for Yorkshire. Having just posted his first Test 50 a week earlier, Gough clearly did not expect demotion for his deeds, and he was not slow in letting his county captain know what he felt.

It is this belligerence, coupled with an unquestioning belief in self, that Gough and Botham have in common. If the sporting equivalent of a genetic fingerprint test could be implemented, other similarities would come to light. But they could never be father and son.

The sheer ebullience and no- nonsense attitude are pure Beefy bloodstock, as is the genuine personality and constant search for success. After getting him out cheaply in Brisbane, Gough told David Boon that he had targeted him as his number one priority for dismissal. "Good on yer," Boon replied. "I like someone who shows emotion when he gets wickets."

This kind of audacity by Test cricket's latest pup was the young Botham to a tee, recalling the Somerset player's Test debut, when his reaction to the lucky dismissal of Greg Chappell was equally precocious in its presumption of future greatness.

However, Gough, though a faster bowler, does not possess the outswinger that got Botham so many of his 380 Test wickets. Off the field, Botham craves company, whereas Gough, who enjoys basking in his cricketing deeds, reading all the papers, can quite happily spend an evening by himself and go to the cinema. They also differ in their respect for tradition. While Botham had a pathological disdain for cricket's past, Gough is in awe the history of the game.

When Harold Larwood, the grand old man of the Bodyline series 62 years ago, telephoned the England dressing-room to congratulate Gough on bowling Australia out in the first innings, the young Yorkshireman was genuinely moved. "It was a real surprise," Gough said after his six-wicket haul. "He called me up to say well done. I was proud. He was a good fast bowler and that's what I want to be, though I'd like to think I'm a bit taller than him."

Refreshing though it is, this almost boyish charm will almost certainly soon disappear. International sport hardens personalities as well as sinews, though so far, and uncharacteristically for a Yorkshireman, Gough, now 24, has handled the acclaim with rare humility and humour.

"It's flattering that people compare me with Ian Botham. But he's the best all-rounder there has ever been. Even so, I don't think it's fair. I'm just starting. I just want to be known as Darren Gough - a promising bowler who can bat a bit. That is, until I've played well over a number of years."

Mind you, the Botham in him rises to take the bait when he feels someone has taken liberties, by judging him on matters he feels unfair or irrelevant. When one English journalist described all fast bowlers as being stupid by nature, Gough retorted: "I don't mind him saying I'm crap at bowling, but I won't have him saying I'm thick."

In an uncertain world, the greatest threat to Darren Gough's progress on the road to becoming a world-class all-rounder is the quality of advice he can turn to when things begin go against him. At present, England's coaches Keith Fletcher and Geoff Arnold are not flexible enough to deal with reviving the fortunes of someone as passionate as the young Yorkshireman, should he hit a large hurdle. Neither is his county famous for its sympathetic ear, or diplomatic player relations.

Ironically, considering his views on interfering ex-players getting involved, Botham himself would be the best man for the job. But before the old master makes way for the new, a word of warning.

The last person to take five wickets and score a fifty for England was Chris Lewis. And look what happened when people started advising him.