Darren Gough has often been referred to as England's talisman. The crowd loved him because he played with a smile on his face, the England team adored him because he won them games, and, according to Nasser Hussain, he was the first name on his team-sheet.
It was Gough, not Andrew Caddick, to whom Hussain continually threw the ball when England were in need of a wicket - and invariably Gough produced the goods.
Gough's inclusion in England's one-day squad for the summer fixtures against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and South Africa prove that Yorkshire's self-proclaimed favourite son has been missed by England since his right knee starting showing the effects of a decade of wear and tear. Nowhere was this highlighted more than in the World Cup match against Australia in Port Elizabeth in March. England had Australia reeling on 135 for 8, still 70 runs away from the 205 they required for victory, but no England bowler could separate Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel as they took their side to the unlikeliest of wins. At the post match press conference Gough's name was mentioned by Hussain and the England coach, Duncan Fletcher.
The defeat ultimately cost England a place in the Super Sixes and it is something the selectors have not forgotten. Taking wickets with a seaming new ball is fairly straightforward but knocking over batsmen in the middle of an innings, or at the end when the ball is old, takes different skills and this is where Gough came into his own. With the Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones still making his way back from injury and Stephen Harmison's radar not yet fully corrected, this is where Gough is still the king in the eyes of the selectors.
Several others have tried to fill the void left by England's leading one-day wicket-taker but none - until James Anderson arrived on the scene - have come close. Gough, never one to lack belief in his own ability, knows this but it is through hard work and determination that he has managed to get back to the top. But, at 32 and with knees as rickety as an old rocking chair, it is debatable how long he will last.
Many thought he would never return to the first-class game, let alone the international stage, after a winter spent in Australia worrying about his future. There were rumours that Sky Sports was going to sign him up as a pundit and that retirement was imminent, after several negative appraisals of his injury. Gough, however, wanted to play and his selection not only justifies his belief in himself but also that of the selectors.
Gough's previous two tours to Australia, in 1994-95 and 1998-99, had been successful. However, after a 2002 of virtual inactivity because of injury, last winter's trip "down under" was a disaster. Gough accepts now it was a plan that was always going to end in tears. "I wasn't fit for the tour last winter when it came down to it," he said. "It was, however, a gamble I was willing to take because I wanted to play for my country and the selectors wanted me to play too. When we got there [Australia] the plans for my rehab went out of the window because they wanted me to play quickly and I wanted to be back bowling as soon as possible.
"The worse moment was when the surgeon told me to find another career. I flew home the next day. I went to see a specialist in America and he said that he had known sportsmen with worse knees than me carry on and that there was no reason why I couldn't carry on playing for longer. As long as I worked hard on my fitness."
During my time with England Gough was never a keen trainer. He had a big heart, was naturally fit and as strong as an ox. He preferred to leave his sweat out in the middle in those days, rather than in a gym. These setbacks have changed his outlook completely.
"I have been to the gym every day now for the last six months," he said. "I'm not young any more and I don't have to be told by Yorkshire, they leave me to do my training."
If Gough comes through these next few weeks, it will not be long before he starts demanding his place in the Test side back. It is unlikely Hussain would need much persuading.Reuse content