Gough's career is in danger of achieving premature symmetry. He burst on to the Test scene in 1994, did even better that winter, got injured, recovered his fitness but not his form, and has now burst off the scene. In Australia 18 months ago, he played only three Tests, but took 20 wickets and made a swaggering 50. He was hailed as the new Botham and put on the cover of Playfair Cricket Annual. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first liken to Ian Botham, then put on the cover of Playfair. In South Africa last winter, dogged by a different injury, Gough took no wickets and made two runs. Despite being an Illingworth favourite, he is out of the team.
As bad luck would have it, Gough has just published a book, Darren Gough's Book for Young Cricketers: My Guide to Your Success (Hodder, pounds 14.99), and you can probably guess who the foreword is by. The book contains sound advice about everything from off-cutters to sun-cream. But it is also a sort of autobiography, and this is the bit that catches the eye.
There is a chapter on Gough's exploits in 1994 and 1994-95 ("Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold"). More boldly, there's a chapter on this winter's tour, fearlessly entitled "DAZZLER'S SOUTH AFRICA DIARY". A few excerpts may give the flavour.
Friday 27th October: The first first-class game ever played in Soweto. The squad were introduced to Nelson Mandela at lunch. What a great man!... Several of the lads are wading through his autobiography.
Monday 30th: Devon has been sent to the nets during the match to try to sort out his action. The press imagine a feud between Dev and England's bowling coach, Peter Lever.
Monday 6th November: We discover an old mining town with nothing to do. Corky makes his own entertainment by locking Plank (Peter Lever) out of his room in only a jockstrap.
Friday 17th (first Test): My worst fear - I'm bowled for nought... Every dog has his day, and mine will come.
Sunday 19th: Still raining. Bored, so play picture charades. Very bored, so play hangman. While treating our security guard for a bad hamstring, Wayne [Morton, the England physio] whitens his legs with shoe whitener.
Sunday 24th December: Once we've packed all the kids off to bed, it's time for karaoke for the players and their better halves. Vandana Ramprakash and I paired to sing "The Locomotion", while Ann [Mrs Gough] teams up with Robin Smith for a hilarious rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Gough has a lot to say about humour: "I don't see why I should have a humour bypass operation just because I'm in the middle of a Test." No doubt the japes he relates were amusing at the time. But in print, as likeable as he is, the joke is on him.
To add to his misfortune, an alarmingly similar book is about to burst into Waterstones. Like Gough, DV Podmore is an engaging character, popular with the public. Like Gough, he is a seam bowler and handy batsman. Like Gough, he is fiercely patriotic. Like Gough, he finds himself out in the cold. But there is one major difference between them: Podmore doesn't exist.
Pod Almighty: The Dave Podmore Story, as told to Christopher Nickolds, Nick Newman and Andrew Nickolds (Simon & Schuster, pounds 9.99) may be the funniest book ever written about cricket. (This may not be saying a huge amount). Pod, as he likes to be known, is a character in the great tradition of Wallace Arnold of the Independent on Sunday: a thoroughly unreliable narrator magnificently blind to his own absurdity.
Pod has played for eight counties, always giving 110 per cent, always hoping for The Nod. Early on, after a fairytale week at Worksop, he felt he had "to be in with at least a shout for a sniff of the nod". It is a hope that Gough shares - Thursday 30th November: get the nod at 9.30am.
Soon the reader is finding it hard to distinguish between the two. "Just to pull on a sweater bearing England's three lions was a moment to remember for the rest of my life," writes one of them. "Put it this way," says the other, "if pulling on the three little lions doesn't give you a very big red, white and blue lump in your throat then either you're sick in the head or born abroad."
Pod especially admires cricketers with world-class nicknames - Goochie, Stewie and Gatt. Gough shows that this sort of class lives on, in Thorpey, Corky and Hicky. Pod, too, finds nothing more rewarding than the sight of a team-mate in a hotel corridor in his jockstrap.
Pod has many of the qualities of the greats: Botham's subtlety, Gatting's diplomacy, Boycott's magnanimity. But all he really shares with Gough is a prose style. Pod is an honest trundler, capable of putting it There or Thereabouts. Gough is a fast swing bowler, capable of demolishing Test sides. Let us hope he gets The Nod again soon. Let us also hope he turns down the next book offer.
n Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket MonthlyReuse content