Cricket: Warne fears a fit Gough

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SHANE WARNE yesterday singled out Darren Gough's fitness as the key to England's hopes for regaining the Ashes in this winter's series.

Warne, who is hoping to return from a shoulder operation in time for the first Test in Brisbane on 20 November, struck up a friendship with the Yorkshire fast bowler during England's last tour to Australia four years ago. But, personal feelings aside, the leg-spinner believes Gough's ability to last the five-Test series is crucial to England's hopes of winning a series down under for the first time since 1986-87.

"If England have any chance, Gough is the guy they're going to have to keep on the park - he's going to have to perform," said Warne, who has claimed an astonishing 85 wickets in 17 Tests against England.

"If he doesn't bowl as well as he can, Australia will probably win comfortably. But by saying that I don't think England will be a pushover."

Warne also played down his chances of returning for the start of the Ashes series at the Gabba. "On every tour the captain always says `We're going to win, we want to play at full strength and we don't want any excuses'. If I was Alec Stewart and the England team I'd look to be competitive and try to win - I don't really think it matters who's playing.

"It's Australia against England, and that's the bottom line. I still think it's the best series to be involved in; there's still something a bit special about it."

n Channel 4 has admitted that it is trying to lure the commentator Richie Benaud away from the BBC for its Test coverage after next year's World Cup. The terrestrial channel outbid the BBC last week to secure the broadcasting rights in a pounds 103m four-year deal.