So long to the man who dazzled English cricket

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Darren Gough unlaces his boots and packs his bag for the final time at the end of the 2008 season English cricket will wave goodbye to one of its most colourful and charismatic figures. In the nineties, an era when the England cricket team generally had very little to feel jolly about, Gough put a smile back on the face of the national teams supporters with his wholehearted effort and his joy of life.

Sharing a dressing room with him was novel and entertaining experience. It was not only on the field that he wanted to be the centre of attention. In the confines of the dressing room conversation always revolved around him and more often than not ended with him being the topic of discussion. He was, and is, as Yorkshire as they come but unlike many from the unique county he is prepared to have a laugh at himself.

When he was the pin-up boy of English cricket Gough loved the freebies that came his way and his corner of a dressing room was filled with watches, training gear, toiletries and fashion clothing he had been sent. He loved showing them off. It used to drive Dominic Cork, his close friend and fellow fast bowler mad. Cork thought he was the main man and could not understand why he never received the same recognition.

In cricket fast bowlers are widely regarded as being a bit thick and Gough did little to rid us of the tag. Once, when asked by a journalist why he was nicknamed 'Rhino'. He replied: "Coz I'm as strong as a bloody ox, that's why." Another time when asked where he had eaten the previous night he replied, in an Italian accent, 'Albarone.' We later found out that it was called All Bar One.

On the field he was an inspiration and had he been six inches taller he would have been one of the greatest bowlers England have produced. For his height he did remarkably well to compete as he did, taking 229 Test wickets in 58 Tests at a very competitive average of 28.39. His small stature helped him in one-day cricket, in that it was easier for him to get skiddy yorkers in to the blockhole at the end of an innings, and he remains, with 235 wickets, England's highest limited over wicket-taker.

It was not just his effervescent nature that people warmed to, even though it is this trait that seems to have reinvigorated Yorkshire since he took over as captain. It was his heart, the size of it, which won him greater respect. Gough was a hugely competitive bowler who gave it his absolute all every time he walked on to a field. The tougher the conditions the more he got out himself, a trait that was highlighted on England's 2000/01 of Sri Lanka when, in extremely unhepful conditions, he helped bowl his side to an unexpected series victory.

He loved the challenge of playing against Australia too, a team that offered him the biggest stage of all, and it was in Adelaide on a scorching 45 degree day that he showed his true mettle to me. Dean Headley and Allan Mullally, two extremely fit young men, had wilted under a hot sun and northerly desert wind but Gough, this tubby looking, unathletic-looking bundle of fun kept running in all day. It was an awesome effort and he was rewarded with a couple of late wickets with the second new ball.

On announcing his retirement Gough stated that he did not want any fanfare and that he wanted to go quietly. One thing is for sure is that cricket will not have heard the last of him. Yorkshiremen in cricket do not disappear quietly.