Will Gough ever play again?


NOVEMBER 4. Darren Gough declares he is out of the first Test, Michael Vaughan is only 75 per cent fit and Andrew Flintoff is working 10 hours a day to get fit. But for me it's 3.44 a.m. and I am both tired out and unable to sleep. My long term insomnia has kicked in with my jet lag and left me staring at the walls of our apartment in the Chinese quarter of Melbourne. We are here for a few days before we fly on to Brisbane for the first Test. Seventy years after Bodyline and frankly I would rather face Harold 'Bent Arm' Larwood with six short legs breathing down my neck and Douglas Jardine looking daggers than another bout of sleeplessness. It's miserable when you cannot turn on the television for fear of waking your partner or play a computer game because, for some reason known only to the electronics industry, my lap top's battery will not recharge. I'm terrified I'll lose 10 years' work if I touch the wrong button. Why am I telling you this tale of woe? It's simple. I hope that my tales of cricketing high life will encourage bright young sparks to follow in my footsteps and experience the best times a reporter can find. So let's regard this note as a warning. For every moment of joy there is a downside, sadly.

November 5. I've been forced to turn off the television because I do not want to spend another minute watching Matthew Elliott reveal the inner feelings that made him give up the vice-captaincy of Victoria; essentially the captaincy since Shane Warne spends most of his life making fools of international batsmen. Fleming wants to concentrate on his batting so that he can win back his Test place. Good on you, Matthew; but your whole interview is so wretched it is difficult to sympathise. Contrast his facial expression with the farewell talk from the deposed Mark Waugh or the about-to-be-sold-down-the-river captain Steve. Mark manages a few noble sentiments and Steve even unwraps a grin as he admits he has only a 50-50 chance of playing in the World Cup. He just hopes the selectors realise he is still around if needed. Mark Waugh says he was offered the chance to retire rather than be dropped. I had wondered why the Australian selectors cannot find a way of getting rid of their older players with a little more dignity. Kim Hughes, in tears, Allan Border, in silence, Mark Taylor, without so much as a farewell wave should all have been given a decent send-off. Now Steve Waugh is clearly ready to leave after the Ashes series. Well, that's the plan but I suspect that a couple of low scores may see him dumped as unceremoniously as the others.

November 6. The lady who runs our hotel turns out to be from our part of England and tells us that she is now settled here but that she misses the food she loves best. "I would like a good Indian take-away," she says, all misty-eyed. "The Indian food here is rubbish." Excuse me. A woman from a country that produces excellent fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasties, that delicious Liverpool stew called scouse, the Tyneside speciality panhagetty, Melton Mowbray pies, Lancashire hot pot and Stilton cheese feels deprived because she cannot buy her favourite curry? What a state of affairs. Still I can sympathise. I once - and only once - taste lardy cake which is the local delicacy from our area and, believe me, it makes the worst chicken tikka masala seem like a dish fit for the Queen.

November 7. The first Test begins with the National Anthem, Advance Australia Fair, two minutes silence and the Last Post in memory of those young people killed in the Bali bombings. This dreadful event clearly shakes Australia to the core and no wonder. However, a record number turn up for the start of the match on the new 'Gabba ground, all hi-tech lifts, bright colours and stands that reach to the sky; a big contrast with the up-country ground of a few years ago. I am glad one small stand remains between the new buildings. It is from here that Brisbane's jokers release two piglets labelled Ian Botham and Eddie Hemmings, men of substance. Actually, the joke is now on the Aussies. Botham has slimmed down considerably which is more than I can say from the new Australian male, in a country which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Long-term readers of this column will be glad to know that Botham - and his daughter Sarah - are still working for Sky TV and that Botham's mobile phone is still in constant use. Allan Border completes his charity walk from Sydney, the city of his birth, to Brisbane, where he plays most of his cricket for Queensland, in time for tea at the Test and expresses mild surprise that Nasser Hussain chooses to bowl first. He is not alone. Even after England make their second day recovery it is difficult to find anyone who can understand Hussain's reasoning. Perhaps the distraction of knowing that his wife is about to give birth to their second child is at the back of Hussain's mind all the time. He admits that he sleeps little during any Test which is at least preparing him for the rigours of fatherhood, including those moments when Junior wants to be fed at 3 a.m. and father desperately needs his sleep for some important engagement the next morning. Later Hussain admits he is wrong to ask Australia to bat. "I stuffed up," says this expert in the modern idiom.

November 8. A friend emails her husband's mobile phone number. "It's on 24 hours a day, except, of course, at the week-end," she says. Nothing is allowed to come between a pukka - fair dinkum in their terminology - Aussie gent and his week-end of relaxation, a visit to the beach, and a few beers. All I ask is whether a country that rates leisure time so highly can ever achieve greatness.

November 9. Our new best friend is a taxi driver who begins life as an Australian when he arrives with the Hungarian boxing squad, defects and takes up a different career altogether with an English wife. "No regrets," he says in a thick mid-European accent. "Australia is a lovely country and if I move anywhere it will be to England because the people are so polite." Those media folk not needed for the ten day trip to Tasmania make arrangements to escape to the Australian holiday beaches of Noosa and then find, to their horror, that a noxious seaweed has swept inshore making the sands out of bounds to anyone with a sensitive nose.

November 10. Darren Gough gives up the fight for fitness and flies home for more treatment and possibly another operation. Now the question is whether he will ever play again at any level. England will miss him not just as a bowler with 228 wickets to his name and a skiddy contrast to the other 6ft-plus, high bouncing slightly slower quicks but for his bubbly nature. He had the ability - like Fred Trueman in another age - to lift a dressing room with a single remark. No-one fought harder for England or Yorkshire; no-one tried to bowl faster; no-one sacrificed his career more willingly. Yet like Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Jack Russell too many other fine England players he never took part in a successful Ashes campaign and therefore cannot be counted among the elite. He is facing two dilemmas as he tries to get fit. In the small print of his contract it is laid down that he will not be paid a penny for his trip unless he plays in a match. It is to be hoped that he reads every word thoroughly. Of course he will have his hotel bills paid and his food provided and his daily allowance doled out; but the prospect of returning home without having earned a dollar in Australia will not please him. Especially as he is still negotiating with Yorkshire over the final details of his new county contract. That county is still badly off, and relegated to the Second Division and they may have it in mind to cut him out of their wage bill too. Another Yorkshireman is in even greater trouble. Geoff Boycott's many friends in India will know that he is ill and that he would be grateful for their prayers as he is being treated.