Gough in race for Test fitness

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The Independent Online
cricket Darren Gough has 48 hours to prove he is fit enough for the biggest match of his career. The Yorkshire fast bowler is desperate to play in the second Test against Australia, beginning on Saturday, but first he must convince himself and England's selecto r s that a hamstring injury will not flare up again.

"I reckon the Melbourne Test is the biggest of the series," Gough said. "There should be a huge crowd inside the MCG and I'm very keen to play in the match if I can.

"But I have to be sure I'm fit. At the moment I'm hopeful, but I won't make myself available unless I'm 100 per cent certain. I believe we need to win either here or in the third Test at Sydney if we are going to take back the Ashes."

Gough missed the World Series Cup victory against Australia A at Melbourne on 13 December when he felt a twinge in the hamstring. Then, having taken 5 for 44 and emerged with more credit than most from last week's defeat by Zimbabwe in Sydney, he aggrav a ted the injury on Saturday while warming up for England's match against Queensland.

"It's very frustrating because I felt I was bowling well between those injuries," Gough said. "I don't think I've bowled quicker all trip than I did against Zimbabwe. Since Saturday I've been trying to strengthen my hamstring by swimming and exercising and it's coming on well.

"But if I feel a twinge while practising in the nets between now and Saturday then I'm not going to be able to play. You have to be sure it's OK."

The next two days will decide whether Gough has made a complete recovery and the same goes for his fellow pace bowler Phillip DeFreitas, who has been struggling with a calf injury.

"I think I will be OK for the second Test," DeFreitas said. "I don't want to miss this match because it's very important."

England's injury problems reached crisis proportions in Queensland last weekend when there were only nine fully fit players. By Saturday, however, they hope to have a full squad to choose from, with even the Yorkshire all-rounder Craig White making a good recovery from his torn side muscle.

Realistically, White and Joey Benjamin - only just back on his feet after a bout of chicken-pox - are non-starters in Melbourne through lack of match practice, but if Gough and DeFreitas can come though the next couple of days successfully, then England's chances of reversing their first Test defeat in Brisbane will look a little brighter.

England's tormentor, page 27