Angus Fraser: England turn lights out on Dazzler

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Darren Gough was informed by text message that the dream of bringing his England career to a glamorous finale at the 2007 World Cup had ended. The bowler was omitted from England's 30-man preliminary World Cup squad after failing to reach the required level of fitness during testing at the Nat-ional Academy in Loughborough. The squad will be reduced to the final 15 on 15 February.

The exclusion will be a major disappointment to the 36-year-old, who had set his sights on playing in his third World Cup, and it will be interesting to see now whether he retains the motivation to keep playing at county level for Essex. The self-styled "Dazzler" leaves one-day cricket as England's leading wicket-taker, with 235 victims at an average of 26.42.

"I have not spoken to Darren yet," the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, admitted yesterday in Australia. "I regret that, but the finalising of the squad was put back because we had to deal with the injury sustained by Kevin Pietersen on Friday. I texted him to break the disappointing news and put at the bottom that I was sorry about it happening this way because it is not my style.

"I am not 100 per cent sure where Darren is at the moment. He could be in England, he could be here or he could be in transit - he is travelling to Australia to play in a beach cricket tournament. I will ring him as soon as I can get through."

Graveney refused to specify exactly why Gough failed his fitness test, but it is believed that he is carrying a few extra pounds in weight. It was a combination of his weight, injuries at the end of the season and the fact that his dodgy knee does not allow him to play continuously that ultimately forced the selectors to make their decision.

"We were keen to have Darren in the 30," Graveney added. "The number of players we have used since the last World Cup is a concern, and if you were good enough to be selected for a squad at the end of the summer it would make sense that you were good enough for the 30. It would be inappropriate to target a specific area but his injuries, overall fitness and the chances of him being fit to play in every game were considered. You have only a 15-man squad at the World Cup and you have to be pretty careful with the fitness levels."

This tougher stance might be a response to the Ashes, for which England picked three or four players in the hope that they would find fitness and form in record time. Graveney denied that this was the case but, there again, he would, wouldn't he?

"We wanted clarity, particularly with players who have been out injured for quite a long time," explained Graveney. "We had to create an unemotional criterion, and it was that to qualify for the 30 you had to be fit enough by a certain date. I asked for a number of players to be fitness tested and unfortunately Darren didn't reach the standard. Ian Blackwell and Tim Bresnan were in a similar situation and, sadly, they failed to come through too."

Geraint Jones was also overlooked in a squad that includes four uncapped players. Malachy Loye of Lancashire, Graham Onions of Durham and Essex's Ravi Bopara, who has been called up for the current squad as a replacement for Pietersen, have all represented England A, but it is the first time that Kent's Amjad Khan has been selected. A Danish-born fast bowler of some promise, he has recently qualified for England.

If Bopara plays in the Commonwealth Bank series, and there is a very good chance that the 21-year-old will, he will become the 35th player to represent England in limited-overs cricket in the past 18 months. Fourteen have played in fewer than five matches, all of which highlights England's disarray in this form of the game.

Graveney accepted that the loss of Pietersen was a huge blow to England's chances of reaching the final of the current triangular tournament. "It is difficult to overestimate the loss of KP," he said. "He has been a form player and nobody plays like him in the world. He is a threat to any team, as he showed on Friday.

"His departure leaves Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff now knowing that they have to take on extra responsibility. It will be difficult but not impossible. We have to keep playing."

England's next match is probably the most crucial in the tournament. Should Vaughan's side defeat New Zealand in Hobart on Tuesday they can attribute their troubles Down Under to Australia's brilliance. If, however, they lose to Stephen Fleming's team it is difficult to see them coming back. It could result in England leaving for home in early February without a single win on the entire tour.

THE TOP 30: ENGLAND'S PRELIMINARY SQUAD

M P Vaughan (Yorks, capt) Age: 32 ODIs: 75

J M Anderson (Lancashire) 24, 54

I R Bell (Warwickshire) 24, 27

R S Bopara (Essex) 21, 0

S C J Broad (Leicestershire) 20, 5

G Chapple (Lancashire) 32, 1

R Clarke (Surrey) 25, 20

P D Collingwood (Durham) 30, 104

A N Cook (Essex) 22, 2

J W M Dalrymple (Middlesex) 25, 15

A Flintoff (Lancashire) 29, 106

A F Giles (Warwickshire) 33, 62

M J Hoggard (Yorkshire) 30, 26

E C Joyce (Middlesex) 28, 3

Amjad Khan (Kent) 26, 0

J Lewis (Gloucestershire) 31, 9

M B Loye (Lancashire) 34, 0

S I Mahmood (Lancashire) 25, 15

P A Nixon (Leicestershire) 36, 1

G Onions (Durham) 24, 0

M S Panesar (Northamptonshire) 24, 1

K P Pietersen (Hampshire) 26, 42

L E Plunkett (Durham) 21, 16

M J Prior (Sussex) 24, 12

C M W Read (Nottinghamshire) 28, 36

O A Shah (Middlesex) 28, 18

V S Solanki (Worcestershire) 30, 51

A J Strauss (Middlesex) 29, 65

C T Tremlett (Hampshire) 25, 3

M H Yardy (Sussex) 26, 5

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