England approaching exhaustion

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The Independent Online
CRICKET As England flew into Sydney yesterday on what should have been the Flying Doctor's aeroplane, Darren Gough was busy making telephone calls home to make sure that his family did not arrive in Australia on the day that he arrived back in Barnsley.

Gough's father, wife, and Liam, the seven-week-old son he has not yet seen, were due to have joined him in Australia yesterday, but Gough was already booked on to a flight home, invalid class. Gough's tour ended during Tuesday's day-night international

in Melbourne, and he will now have his feet up (or at least the left foot) for the next three weeks.

That's how long Gough's stress fracture will keep him on crutches, and it will be at least 10 weeks before he will be given the all clear to start bowling again in the Yorkshire indoor nets. "It was," Gough said yesterday, "the worst pain I have ever felt," and if England's prospects of salvaging something from the final two Ashes Tests have not entirely gone home with him, they have certainly diminished.

Raymond Illingworth, England's chairman of selectors, said that he had been "devastated" by Gough's injury, which was probably a bit melodramatic, although no one would argue with Illingworth's assessment that Gough had been "a breath of fresh air". As for replacements, Illingworth said wearily: "Is there anyone left?"

Neil Fairbrother, Tuesday's other casualty, missed England's final World Series qualifying game against Australia A at the SCG today, and was waiting for the results of a scan on his sprung right shoulder. If it reveals any tendon damage, Fairbrother could also be heading for Sydney's international terminal, rather than domestic, in the next few days.

England, who set off for Australia in October with a squad of 16, have now used 21 players on this tour (22 if you include having to press the physio into fielding duty in Toowoomba) and while they might yet call up another replacement for the final two Test matches, they are currently making do with Chris Lewis.

If anyone was making a book on the next casualty, Lewis would be about 2-5 favourite, although the physio himself cannot be ruled out, either from an attack of nervous exhaustion, or a pulled hamstring from dashing on and off the field.

In fact, if Dave Roberts was on piece rate instead of a contract, he would already be a wealthy man, and he has more than once gone on record during this tour as saying that modern cricketers do not get enough rest. England have now been playing more or less non-stop since they left for the West Indies last January, and the World Series competition comes complete with a draining travel itinerary.

Australia's work-load is even more intense. They were still at the back end of two months in Pakistan when England arrived in Australia, and when the Ashes series finishes on 8 February, they leave for a four-Test series in the West Indies.

Like many other sports, the international cricket season is now almost 12 months of the year, and unless the marketing men start realising soon the strain they are putting the players under, Channel Nine might as well set up their cameras for the finals of the next World Series in the grounds of the Melbourne Royal Infirmary rather than the MCG.

There might still be a cry of "Goodnight Charlie" on the commentary, but not so much from Tony Greig's low-key manner of describing dismissals, as the ward nurse before turning the lights out. And as for Tony's "on your bike!" Darren Gough won't be doingany cycling for quite some time.

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