Decision day looms for Gough

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Sometime on Tuesday morning, another England international career which began way back in the 1990s could draw to a close. Following Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain, it may well be the turn of Darren Gough.

Sometime on Tuesday morning, another England international career which began way back in the 1990s could draw to a close. Following Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain, it may well be the turn of Darren Gough.

The difference - a significant one for a fast bowler who owes England nothing - is that Stewart and Hussain went of their own accord while Gough may not be offered the chance. If he is overlooked for the NatWest Series, which begins on 24 June, there will be no more comebacks. At 33 going on 34, that will be that.

The selectors will not let him go lightly, and it is possible they will not let him go at all. But it became clear in the West Indies recently that Gough is bowling on borrowed time, something given him by surgeons and his own determined nature. He refused to be bowed, of course, and was miffed to the point of surliness that he was written off quite so quickly.

Although he cocked a small snook at his critics by roaring back in the final match, the warning signs were clearly there. The NatWest Series is a tough, concentrated tournament, and Gough would need careful nurturing through it.

The selectors have to weigh up whether it is worth it, given that they are building for the 2007 World Cup. There are fast bowlers out there who need international experience. Simon Jones, ruled out of the Second Test with a foot injury, is one of them. So far he has not played a single one-day international; Gough has played 126.

The other conundrum will be whether to keep faith with Anthony McGrath, who was an affable squad member throughout the winter but did not play a match. He is there as an all-rounder. It may be felt that Ian Bell, gathering runs and now taking wickets for Warwickshire, should be given international exposure at last.

The other option is Robert Key, who is scoring first-class runs galore for Kent. His one-day form is not so auspicious, but that has not stopped the selectors giving a player a chance in this way before. Of recent vintage, Andrew Strauss was called up in that fashion.

Soon it will also have to be decided where Michael Vaughan bats. He has just gone up the one-day order to open after a year wondering why he was not doing the job, but has gone down the Test order. If you did not know better you might begin to suspect England were making up their plans on the hoof.

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