Will England bend the knee to Goughie's Test return?

NatWest Series final: Crunch time as an icon works himself into the frame
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The Independent Online

Let it be spoken through the land. Goughie's back. In a seven-over opening spell he took the wickets of the two South African batsmen capable of a match-winning innings. His tight line and skiddy movement off the seam frustrated both Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis, and each edged a generous delivery to Chris Read. With Kallis gone, South Africa were 43 for 4 and it was all over bar some delightful strokeplay by Michael Vaughan and Vikram Solanki.

"Goughie's definitely set the tone and put South Africa under pressure," his captain said proudly. Vaughan could not have been more generous: "In the one-day game he's second to none, and he's let his bowling do the talking."

In the NatWest Series Gough took nine wickets at 22.55. Both James Anderson (11 at 17.64) and Andrew Flintoff (10 at 18.10) have better stats but you cannot put numbers on the value of his experience and his encouragement to England's young fast bowlers. His figures yesterday, 7-2-9-2, were good enough to get him a nomination for Player of the Series (won by Flintoff). Not bad for a bowler who only two weeks ago suffered the indignity of conceding 22 runs off the last over of the innings.

He is not normally slow to blow his own trumpet, but since the succession of injuries last year, it has been muted. He said yesterday that he had got better as the series went on. Initially he had been worried about the knee: "But I got a bit more confidence with the injury."

He may be given the chance to forget that, only seven months ago, he limped back from Australia with a knee that seemed impervious to surgery. His Test career was written off and those loyal people who run Yorkshire cricket were willing to give him no more than a match- by-match contract. Gough has given them the best possible answer. It would be unfit for reproduction in a family newspaper.

He displayed the character of a fine sportsman during his recovery. An American specialist told him that operations would not cure his problem of wear and tear in the knee. Hard work in the gym was the solution, and Gough responded as he has often done in adversity. He refused to give up.

Gough's particular value to this one-day team is not the customary one for an England strike bowler. With Anderson leaking runs while taking wickets at one end, Gough has deliberately held back, says Vaughan. His job has been to drag back the scoring-rate. "He probably hasn't been as attacking as he could have been," Vaughan said. "He gives them no width or leeway.He is an exceptional one-day cricketer."

He has been an exceptional Test match cricketer, too, and the question now is whether Gough, at 32, will be back in the big time when the Test series starts at Edgbaston a week on Thursday. Yorkshire have a four-day game against Durham on Tuesday and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, will be keeping a wary eye on Gough's progress. Even so, to pick him would be a gamble.

The selectors are scheduled to perform on Thursday. They would be bold to pick Gough on the evidence of two days' play but as we have seen, they were bold enough to pick him last September. Fletcher was typically tight-lipped when asked about Gough's prospects. "We've discussed him. He's got a chance," he said.

It seems that the people who are most anxious to see him back are his new colleagues, Anderson, Flintoff, Richard Johnson and Steve Harmison. Gough works for his iconic status. He fields tirelessly at mid-on (one diving stop saved a certain boundary yesterday) and talks to the bowler about tactics. But the worry about the knee will not go away. Fletcher said that it had stood up to four weeks' work and the treatment, which had not changed, appeared to be working.

Vaughan paid tribute to the quality of the advice he has received in the middle since he became captain, and this would be one reason why he is anxious to have Gough with him. It is partly because of his enthusiasm that Goughie's back. But will he, can he, stay?