Don't worry, the Dazzler will continue to dazzle

The more Darren Gough bowls, the more wickets he takes, the more frequently all and sundry express doubts about his ability to stay fit.

TED CORBETT

Darren Gough is back after three operations on his knee in the last year. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is not sure if Gough will survive a five-day Test and has arranged for him to play for Yorkshire in a four-day county game to try out the knee.-Pic. TOM SHAW/GETTY IMAGES

JULY 7: The more Darren Gough bowls, the more wickets he takes, the more frequently all and sundry express doubts about his ability to stay fit. Even Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, wonders if Gough will survive a five-day Test and arranges for him to play for Yorkshire in a four-day county game to try out the knee that returned stronger after three operations during the last year. On the morning after England's defeat of Zimbabwe in Bristol I run into Gough at breakfast. "All right?" I ask. No answer, just a wave of the hand and a deep, satisfied wink, followed by a huge grin. Don't worry about Dazzler. He will be fine come the Tests.

July 8: No-one needs to hear that all is not well with Shaun Pollock. Oh, yes, he is bowling almost as exactly as ever, as his figures in the tri-series show. But he carries an air of resignation, a sense that he is no longer at the heart and soul of the South African team. Captaining his country, coming immediately on top of the resignation of the wretched Hansie Cronje, was his birthright. But for some reason I shall never understand he is held entirely responsible for their misery in the World Cup. Defeat in the first match against West Indies and their failure to qualify for the later rounds is seen as unacceptable by those in authority and so Pollock has to step down. Now, as he bowls each precisely placed ball, as he tots up maiden overs even in one-day internationals, it appears that he no longer has the vivacity which once makes him the greatest fast medium bowler in the world with a reputation to match Curtly Ambrose, perhaps even Alec Bedser and the immortal S.F. Barnes. His pace drops; unthinkable in a man barely 30 years of age. And even when he runs down the pitch to celebrate the dismissal of the in-form Marcus Trescothick there is a lack of joy that makes me wonder if he will last the whole tour. Then comes the news that he is to return home to be with his pregnant wife and to miss the fourth Test for the birth. What is wrong with this competitive bowler? Still, it strikes me that Brian Lara, another man who fulfils his destiny when he is made captain of West Indies, spends a miserable few years in the wilderness and is now back, inspired so it seems, by the arrival of a bunch of young cricketers he believes will take West Indies back to the top of the tree. There is still time for Pollock to take the same route.

July 9: Hollywood hands out prizes to everyone in sight during the Oscars ceremony and I am wondering if cricket can learn a lesson from the most publicity conscious and glamour intensive of the performing arts. Take Heath Streak, for instance. When the tri series ends there will be no prize for this earnest young man because Zimbabwe lose so often even though he performs minor miracles with a team who are down on their luck and short of ability. I am sure that if he is an actor — just possible with those craggy good looks and a lot of theatrical make-up — he will receive a special award for something entitled A Lifetime's Achievement. I also want to see an award for bowlers like Paul Adams who make double their highest one-day score. It is my belief that it is unreasonable to expect a tailender to make runs when the top batsmen fail. If he does so there ought to be a lot of thanks from his captain and, maybe, something more than a polite handclap from the sponsors.

July 10: Why do cricketers keep banging on about how hard they work? Ask any one of them why he scores a double hundred, takes a hat-trick, holds five catches in an innings and back comes the most predictable of answers: "I keep working hard in the nets and now at last the results are beginning to show." Is it guilt, as I suspect, that they play a game for a fairly handsome living and that they want to prove that they have to go through the same trauma as the rest of us?

Who turns up but one Patrick Compton, the South African journalist son of Denis and uncle of Nick, 20, now playing for Middlesex alongside Ben Hutton, 26, son of Richard and grandson of Len and shortly to be joined in that hall of fame by Mali Richards, 19, son of Viv. At least they have the right genes but which one will be the first to follow an ancestor into the national team is anyone's guess.

July 11: Fred Trueman, an old friend of this column, heads into his 73rd year with a chuckle and a memory for facts and figures. He and his wife Veronica head off to the United States recently and find that "there is so much cricket being played in the Philadelphia area that I think I am back in Yorkshire." Fred, a noted speaker on the English after-dinner circuit — other more famous men are apprehensive about speaking after him since the comparisons are not always in their favour — gets on his feet once or twice during the three weeks in Uncle Sam country but he takes advantage of the invitation to visit his daughter and his grandsons and to go round a museum or two. In one he is shown a bat signed by one W. G. Grace 120 years ago. "Who is this guy Grace?" asks a bewildered American collector of sports memorabilia. Fred explains and is then astonished to hear that the man buys the bat for the equivalent of 50 pounds. "It must be the biggest bargain of all time," says the old fast bowler. We arrange to meet up at the Headingley Test; but only if Yorkshire reverse their decision to charge their former Test stars �75 a head — plus �75 for wives. That is not, in the opinion of Fred Trueman, the biggest bargain of all time, and he, like Geoff Boycott, Ray Illingworth and Brian Close, proposes to boycott the event.

July 12: On the morning of the NatWest final we wake early and watch out of the hotel window, just across the road from Lord's, as all the Queen's Horses, walk back to their stables at St. Johns Wood barracks after their daily exercise. What a stirring sight in the morning sunshine, what discipline, what control. Even though the horses are bare-backed they maintain perfect step almost as if they are on parade. As for the final; what a disaster that is. South Africa shot out, England race to success. But what a triumph the series is for Andrew Flintoff. When he goes on to bowl there is a growl of approval from the crowd: as if to say "Now everything will be all right." When he goes in to bat, another roar goes round the ground as if to say: "This is why we came today. If Freddie is going in England will soon be on their way." When the Press Box is asked to name the man of the series, the strident voice asking for a vote is drowned by the roar of acclamation for this huge, likeable, soft-hearted lad from Preston where I always feel the pedestrians walk more slowly than in any other British town. Perhaps I am right; certainly Flintoff develops more slowly than his critics expect. Now he is third in the world rankings behind Jacques Kallis and Chris Gayle, and with plenty of years left to capture the top spot.

July 13: This is the watershed; but have the selectors the strength of mind to replace Test captain Nasser Hussain with Michael Vaughan, bring Chris Read into the England side instead of Alec Stewart and give Vikram Solanki the batting place vacated by Hussain? All the signs are that such changes will be left until the new contracts are handed out in September. But surely now is the time to act so that the new boys have the chance to settle in against a weak South African side.