The selection of Darren Gough in England's squad for the First Test against South Africa at Edgbaston next week completes a remarkable turn-around in the fortunes of the Yorkshire fast bowler.
Eight months ago, in the foyer of the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Brisbane, Gough fought back the tears as he waited for a taxi to take him to the airport. The 32-year-old had just been told his tour of Australia was over after the chronic injury to his right knee had again failed to cope with the workload placed upon it.
Before returning to England Gough visited another surgeon in search of some positive news. After looking at the condition of his knee the specialist did not give him the advice he was looking for; he recommended that Gough "look for an alternative career". Gough left his team-mates doubting that he would ever play for his country again.
On Thursday or Friday - depending on who bats first - Gough will mark out his run-up and bowl his first ball in Test cricket for almost two years. There will have been times since the appointment with the surgeon that Gough has wanted to remind him of his diagnosis, but never more so than when he takes his 229th Test wicket. He may have made his comeback in one-day cricket but this moment will indicate to him that all the hard work and stress he has been through was worthwhile.
Though Gough successfully came through England's one-day matches, there is still an element of risk in his selection. So far this season the paceman has bowled only 100 or so overs in first-class cricket. For Yorkshire he has passed every physical test to come his way but he has been handled with care by his captain, Anthony McGrath.
The naturally ebullient and confident Gough may disagree with this comment - he said earlier this week that he thought a one-day match was harder than a day's Test cricket - but Nasser Hussain will be a lot more demanding than McGrath. The nature of Test cricket also means that bowlers have to be able to force the issue on flat pitches if they want to take wickets. In the one-day game, where the onus is on batsmen to score runs quickly, this is not the case.
Test cricket, like any good wood sealant - it does what it says on the tin - tests an individual completely during the course of five days. Only when Gough has bowled 50 overs and fielded for two days will he truly know that his knee can cope with the demands of being a Test cricketer again.
David Graveney, England's chairman of selectors, was typically upbeat about Gough's return. "Darren Gough had an outstanding one-day series," he said. "He has been playing four-day cricket for Yorkshire, and feels confident that he will be able to make a contribution to the Test side. We considered what was required for this First npower Test match, and felt we needed his experience and quality as part of our attack."
Gough's selection comes at the expense of the Somerset pace bowler Richard Johnson, who has failed to convince the selectors he will be fit enough to play at Edgbaston after picking up a groin strain during the recent NatWest Series.
Johnson, who took 6 for 33 on his Test debut against Zimbabwe at Chester-le-Street, will need to play for his county next Wednesday if he wishes to be considered for the Second Test at Lord's the following week. As cover, Sussex's James Kirtley will travel to Birmingham, but serving drinks is as close as he is likely to get to the action.
Predictably, Robert Key was dropped and Andrew Flintoff recalled but, other than discussing an alternative to Alec Stewart behind the stumps, the selectors had to decide whether to choose the Surrey batsman, Graham Thorpe. After spending eight months sorting out his private life, he has this summer shown both the form and the desire to play for England again.
Such positive intent failed to win over the selectors. They decided to show loyalty to McGrath, who had performed admirably in England's two Test matches against Zimbabwe. But it can only be a matter of time before Thorpe eases out his rival for the No 5 spot.
"Graham Thorpe was considered and we are pleased his personal situation has improved and he is now able to commit himself to England home and away," Graveney said. "But we wanted to show consistency to Anthony McGrath, who has done nothing wrong during his time with England. He deserves to keep his place." Thorpe was philosophical, saying: "I want to play for England but I am quite laid back about it all."
South Africa's Jacques Kallis may miss the first Test against England after deciding to remain at home with his cancer-stricken father Henry. The 27-year-old all-rounder flew back to South Africa to be with his father, who has lung cancer, following last Saturday's one-day triangular series final defeat by England.
England (from): N Hussain (Essex, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), M A Butcher (Surrey), A McGrath (Yorkshire), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), A Flintoff (Lancashire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), D Gough (Yorkshire), S J Harmison (Durham), J M Anderson (Lancashire), R J Kirtley (Sussex).Reuse content