Cricket: Young icon with an eye on greatness: Darren Gough may be one of England's most potent weapons this winter. James Alexander reports from Perth

Click to follow
The Independent Online
When Darren Gough was struck on the forearm by a bouncer from Allan Donald - he was attempting to hook, of course - during the tense closing overs of the Lord's Test last summer, he had to be all but dragged off by the physiotherapist. He then entered the dressing-room, asked for a pen and wrote two words on a scrap of paper.

'Donald Dies,' they said, and he placed the paper in his coffin as a permanent reminder. It was his second Test match.

This is an extraordinary competitor, a young cricketer whose compelling self-belief demands you take notice. He was talking in such a vein yesterday 24 hours after an impressive performance that yielded figures of 5 for 32 in England's opening match against the ACB Chairman's XI. No warming-up, no taking it easy at the outset of the tour. Gough can play only one way . . .

flat out. Dennis Lillee, not a bad judge, was among those who liked what he saw.

'I try as hard as I can in every game,' Gough said. 'I even do it in practice and, when I bowled Graham Gooch with a yorker in the nets over the weekend, it was a tremendous thrill to dismiss a batsman of his stature. In the first match, I was trying hard to impress Lillee, but I want to impress all the time. I have a reputation and I want it to grow.

'The Australians have Shane Warne. Everyone knows about him, but I want people to be talking about Devon Malcolm and myself. I realise I've played only four Tests, but I want to be known as a Test great.'

Lillee particularly liked the way Gough was prepared to reduce his pace towards the end of the innings in order to make the ball swing. 'For such a young bowler to do that is terrific,' Lillee explained. 'Gough doesn't have a long run-up, but he has good rhythm and generates a fair pace. He is prepared to hit the deck and bowlers who do that out here normally succeed.'

Nothing fazes Gough, least of all the prospect of locking cricketing and conversational horns with the Australians in the coming months. He is 5ft 10in, strong and ambitious. He has an ample, fast bowler's bottom but, as Fred Trueman used to say, 'you need a big 'ammer for a big nail.' However, about the only thing that seems to make Gough's eyes glaze are comparisons with Trueman. The 'fiery one' has had no input whatsoever in his development.

Gough is becoming the Yorkshire icon of the Nineties. When he walked out to bat in the Headingley Test last summer, he was greeted by a hooting, hollering crowd. Gough's strutting self-belief and rapport with spectators can get up opponents' noses, but even that is something he relishes.

'I know I rub some teams up the wrong way and I'm sure that, if I play some attacking innings this winter like I played against South Africa, the Australia bowlers will have plenty to say to me. I'm looking forward to it.

I love that side of the game - it's part of the fun.'

Gough was a skinny kid, but still opened the bowling for Yorkshire at the age of 19. Now, at 24, he has been beefed up by regular trips to the gym and cutting out junk food. However, it was not until after a quiet word from Richie Richardson that Gough knew he must concentrate on sheer speed.

'I was bowling to Shaun Udal of Hampshire and he hit me for four. Richie asked me what on earth I was doing, because the guy was a No 8 batsman, and told me just to bowl fast. I did - and got Udal out. I realised I was strong enough to be a strike bowler. I played a couple of games for the Seconds, then took seven wickets against Somerset in the Championship.

'I'm not the fastest bowler in the world - certainly Devon Malcolm has more pace - but I'm quick enough for batsmen to be aware of me. I've always been pretty self-confident and that's the way it must be. If you don't believe in yourself, who the hell will believe in you? I'll never go into a Test match just hoping to sneak a wicket or get 10 runs with the bat. I want to get 25 wickets in this series. I might not do it, but that is my ambition. What's the point in aiming to get 12 wickets? I'll always set myself high targets.'

England's second game, which finishes shortly after lunch today British time, is a day-night, four-innings, one- day affair against Western Australia. Keith Fletcher, the coach, says he is not keen on the idea of both teams batting twice in a single day, perhaps because England could find themselves hung, drawn and quartered.

(Photograph omitted)