Gough must be heartbroken

TED CORBETT

"WHAT Goughie and Anna? Don't be daft! Are you sure? No, not them. It cannot be so. Besides he absolutely adores those little lads. He'll miss them and no mistake."

I was assured it was true. The story had been published by the Sunday newspaper that employs him to write a weekly column so it was unlikely to be anything except pukka. But even one of the men who has toured with him for more than five years was shocked.

"They always seemed so, how shall I put it, happy together. He talks about no-one else. How will he get along without those little lads at his side? They went everywhere together. They say there's no other person involved and I can believe that bit. What has forced this split?"

I could be cynical and suggest that Goughie being at home most of this winter has been the real cause. Having him in the house must be like having a lively puppy bouncing around all the time. He is a non-stop talker, as patently open as any young man and, no, he has not grown up noticeably even though he is now beyond his 30th birthday and going on about retirement.

Of course the obvious reason is that he and his wife - the lady who insisted he went to the gym instead of the pub and got him to peak fitness - have grown apart. Ever since they married ten years ago he has been away most of the summer, at home for a very rare visit between season and tour, and simply not around most of the time.

This winter, apart from six weeks in India and New Zealand, Gough has been under Anna's feet for eight months. That's why I say it may be the togetherness rather than the absences that have caused their coming divorce.

He must be heartbroken. I don't know Anna well enough, nor the causes of the trouble beyond the flippant newspaper reasoning, to guess how she will feel but Gough I understand and like. Yes, I know he can be a bit daft, but he is so ebullient you are forced to enjoy his company.

I mean it was not just a one-sided marriage. He moved from his home base in Yorkshire, 150 miles south a couple of years ago so that she could be near her family while he was away and suffered abuse beyond measure from those insular Yorkshiremen.

His thoughts on the subject have been confined to "soon the England team will be made up of the singles and the divorced" while Graham Thorpe suggested "if you want to be an England cricketer stay single." You cannot help but notice the bitterness.

Instead of guessing let's look at the details of the generally accepted reason; that long absences on tour cause marriages to break down. Mark Butcher and Thorpe have both split from wives in the last 18 months and the radio and the newspapers spent most of the days after the Gough announcement suggesting that lengthy tours were the reason.

(On the other hand, Michael Atherton and his girl friend Isabella de Caires made it known that they have had a baby boy Joshua. They are not married, Atherton toured continuously from 1992-3 until 18 months ago and her parents live in Guyana while his home is in Manchester. They are still together after eight years).

Under the benevolent rule of Lord MacLaurin, as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, players have had their families with them frequently on tour which are now built to offer some protection against the effects of separation. This winter, for instance, England have been away in Zimbabwe for a three weeks to play five one-day internationals, back home for a month, in India for six weeks and back home for three weeks at Christmas, back to India and on to New Zealand for 12 weeks. Total time away 21 weeks in three stages.

A few cricketers - notably Nasser Hussain, the captain - were on every stage of each trip but the one-day squad and a Test party contained different players. It is about as good as it gets when touring is part of cricket life.

If you look back in history you will find that no such consideration was allowed 100 years ago.

In 1876-7 when all the trips were by sea the 12 players were away from their families from September 21 to June 2 and spent 165 days in Australia alone. Seven years later travel and fixture arranging had improved to the extent that the team were away only from September 17 to May 1.

Even in 1950-1 England were in Australia for six months and most of them had to sail both ways which meant that in total they were absent nearly nine months. My first tour in 1982-3 was 125 days long without a break.

(I am lucky enough to be able to take Ms Joanne King, now the Channel 4 scorer, with me and believe me it makes a huge difference to have a special pal alongside when the days grow boring or when loneliness sets in).

Did those stout men of 120 years ago crack under the strain? Of course they did. There were just as many marriage problems then as now; it is part of the human condition. Did they complain? You bet they did even though they were as well paid as the modern cricketer and, by the standards of the day, just as mollycoddled.

All the same it is time for the ECB to review their team management techniques.

The rest of the day around the story of Gough's marriage breakdown was taken up with arguments about Matthew Hoggard who bowled himself to a standstill in India and New Zealand and who, rightly in my opinion, had been told to rest by Duncan Fletcher, the England coach.

This big, strong lad decided that he needed a run-out and played for his club. He bowled 10 overs and finished with one for 68. They take no prisoners in the Bradford League and a run rate of seven an over against a Test star will have made them grin widely although I suspect that the fielding and catching probably caused Hoggard more headaches than the batsmen.

An inquiry began immediately. It turned out that although he was barred from playing for Yorkshire so that he could rest there was no such ban on playing for a club and the Australian coach of Yorkshire Wayne Clark gave him permission.

(Don't believe the story that Clark's action was part of a long-term plan by the Aussies to keep the Ashes, by the way. Clark is his own man.)

Bob Platt, the chairman of Yorkshire's cricket committee - the selectors if you like - said: "It is daft that a player should not be available for his county but can play on a club ground where he is more likely to be injured. I sometimes wonder if we are wasting our time producing players for England."

He also pointed up the contrast with Michael Vaughan who "did not play a long innings in New Zealand and who needs time in the middle.

Yet he is not allowed to play." Vaughan played his first game for Yorkshire 11 days before the first Test.

Getting the balance right is an art but Fletcher is paid around a quarter of a million American dollars a year to make such decisions and when he flew back from his own down time in South Africa he found a backlash that may grow more significant as this season develops.

At the same time there were rumours that Gough had still not recovered from the knee injury he picked up in New Zealand and that he was unlikely to be fit for the first Test against Sri Lanka. His likely replacement is his fellow Yorkshire strike bowler Chris Silverwood with whom he has something else in common.

Silverwood's marriage broke down last year even though he has been on just two tours in the last five years. Perhaps it is all about the people and nothing to do with touring.