English spirits lifted by Gough the showman

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The Independent Online
The current definition of an optimist in Australia is an Englishman who puts on sunscreen before going out to bat.

Yesterday, however, England discovered that the sun does not always shine in this part of the world. Neither is it compulsory to play Craig McDermott and Shane Warne as though the sunscreen has run into the eyes.

Only two hours play was possible before the SCG suddenly turned into Old Trafford on one of its fouler days, but they were by some margin the most uplifting two hours of the tour. Darren Gough ripped into McDermott as though he was bowling underarm, while, even more improbably, Devon Malcom twice launched Warne so far into the crowd that the umbrellas were coming up long before it started raining.

Furthermore, while Angus Fraser had clearly purged himself of all violent instincts by head-butting the dressing room wall after running out Steven Rhodes the previous evening, he hung around for so long that - for probably the first time in his career -he even sent for a fresh pair of batting gloves. No one had previously suspected that Fraser even owned more than one pair.

Remarkably, it all added up to England's last three wickets yielding a further 111 in 110 minutes, and had the post-lunch rain not proved to be terminal, Gough and Malcolm might just have been in the mood to do some damage with the new ball. They went out for dinner together, as Compton and Edrich used to do, and doubtless engaged in an animated discussion as to whether McDermott's out-swinger or Warne's flipper was the easier to hit.

It is a comment on some of England's proper batsmen that Gough and Malcolm currently have better averages in this series than either Gooch and Gatting, and although Malcolm will always be a short-sighted slogger occasionally capable of making contact with something other than fresh air, Gough has the technique to score a Test century before he is much older.

When England resumed on 198 for 7, McDermott was certainly not expecting to translate his overnight figures of 4 for 42 from 20 overs into 5 for 101 from 30. Gough, however, clambered into him with such vibrant energy that McDermott came dangerously close to losing his rag. Gough hooked him for six on route to making 50 from 45 balls, a landmark brought up with an extravagant whirl of the bat towards England supporters.

For once, the Barmy Army was intoxicated by it all, as opposed to inebriated.

Gough further raised McDermott's hackles when he was dropped at second slip by Mark Waugh, but in the same over he hooked high to Damien Fleming at long leg and walked off to a standing ovation. Even the Australians have embraced Gough's exuberant brand of cricket.

While their perception of most of the Poms is of trying to take Australia's castle by swimming the moat (and mostly drowning) Gough bursts through the front door, and swings from the chandeliers. Some of the others would not be too keen on the Erroyl Flynn approach for fear of laddering their tights.

"I told one of the TV commentators to fasten the seat belts before I went out to bat," Gough said. "I'm a bit of a showman," he added, having proved the point by, on one occasion, beaming up at the stadium video screen, while he was in the process of running a single. Not tha t singles interest him . "I like to hit the ball for four," he said. "In fact, when I'm batting, I pretend I'm a West Indian."

As for the pukka West Indian, by birth at any rate, Malcolm was no less ebullient, even though his quiet off-the-field demeanour made him no match for Gough when it came to recounting his exploits in the dressing room. "Dev wanted to talk about his innings when he came in," Gough said. "But I was still going on about mine."

Contrary to popular opinion, Warne has been hit into the crowd before, but never by a batsman as clueless as Malcolm. He hit him for two fours and two huge sixes, and with just those four blows passed his previous Test match best of 18. The bookmakers were not invited to tender a quote on the sight of Malcolm raising his bat to the crowd during this series (as he did when he reached 19), but it would probably have been in the region of 1,000-1.

England have not, however, been misled into believing that another batsmen is not required out here, and they yesterday announced that Neil Fairbrother is to replace the injured Craig White later this week.

The previous day's comments from Ray Illingworth and Keith Fletcher about Fairbother's arrival or non-arrival were so conflicting that Fairbother himself is probably not sure whether he is coming or going, which are just about the right mental credentials for this tour.

Fairbrother may also be wondering if Gough was including him when he replied to an Australian question about England's overall ineptitude. Gough said: "We all believe we have the best 16 players here," but England have now had so many replacements that whether Gough meant the 16 England arrived with, the 16 they will be going home with, or a mish-mash of the two, is not clear.

Still, yesterday provided a rare shaft of light, and it could have been even more upbeat had Gatting's reflexes at short leg not failed him. Gatting had a good couple of seconds with the ball in his throwing hand while Michael Slater was out of his crease, but curiously decided not to throw it at the stumps. Another way of looking at it, though, is that it probably saved four overthrows.

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