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The sight and sound of Indian Premier League franchises chasing the promise of wonderkid Jofra Archer underlined just how highly prized quality death bowlers are in T20 cricket.
Fair play to the 22-year-old Sussex man for landing a deal worth £800,000 to play for Rajasthan Royals and for performing well enough for Hobart Hurricanes in this season’s Big Bash to earn it.
No disrespect to him, for he can also field like a whirlwind and he bats well enough to have averaged 45.57 in the County Championship last season, but the size of his pay packet in comparison to what he has actually achieved in his short career makes you wonder what England‘s best ever exponent of the art of closing out an innings might have been worth in today’s market.
In full flight, everything about Darren Gough the bowler was compelling to watch; his bustling sprint to the crease, the classical side-on action, the away swing it generated and his ability to surprise the best batsmen with late movement back off a seam that he deliberately sent down just off the upright, all from a top speed of 90 mph, from which he could also unleash a devilish skiddy bouncer.
When you add reverse swing, perfectly-pitched yorkers and a slower ball you rarely saw coming, it is no wonder the Yorkshireman many compared in his early years to a young Harold Larwood was considered the most feared sub-6ft paceman of his generation, and one of England’s best ever.
His Test hat-trick against Australia in Sydney in 1998, when two of the three victims were castled with textbook toe-crushers, was a thing of beauty and he was one of the few bright sparks in a period of prolonged Ashes gloom for England and their supporters.
He was quite brilliant in the 50-over game, his haul of 234 from 159 matches the second highest on the list of all-time England ODI wicket-takers behind James Anderson.
But although, with time, wear and tear taking their toll, he played just two T20 internationals, his performance in his first, against Australia at The Rose Bowl in 2005, when he took 3-16 as Ricky Ponting’s side tumbled from 23-0 to 31-7, then 79 all out, showed just what a power he might have been in the shortest form of the game at both ends of an innings.
And it was not just what he did, but the way he did everything that made it impossible to take your eyes off him; his sheer enthusiasm, the impression he gave that playing cricket for a living was like winning the lottery and his ability to rise to occasions not shrink from them meant that, fitness permitting, he was destined for top billing from the word go.
Indeed the legend began right there and then when, during his promising championship debut against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1989, one of the Yorkshire cricket writers revealed that Darren’s dad was employed in the pest control trade, then announced to the rest of us watching in the old press box:“I’ve got the first line of tomorrow’s piece, gentlemen.
“It’s: ‘Darren Gough, son of a Barnsley rat-catcher….’”.
And who else but the most natural of showmen would have been able to pull off the “whooooh” gesture to Australia’s Shane Watson at the Riverside in 2005 the day after the Aussie all-rounder had spent the night on the floor of Brett Lee’s hotel room because he had been spooked by the Lumley Castle ghost?
Ten years on from Gough’s retirement, his Test skipper Mike Atherton recently summed up his appeal to those who played alongside him and those who captained him.
“He was fantastic to have in the side,” said Atherton. “When he first came into the team, about his bowling I thought well, he’s somebody who’s quick, got a quick arm… but it emerged he could also do what not many English bowlers could do then, manipulate the old ball, a fantastic reverse swing bowler.
“Now, we talk a lot about technique, wrist positions etc., but more important than that for Test cricket is character and attitude.
“When you walk out there in front of 100,000 at the MCG or 50,000 at Sydney you don’t want a shrinking violet, you want someone to puff out their chest and say ‘give me the ball, I am going to get these guys out.’”
The ability to fill a stage without appearing to be a total chump has since underpinned his successful second career, first winning Strictly Come Dancing, then cheering people up and winding them up in equal measure on talkSPORT radio.
It also prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to invite him to stand as the Conservative Party candidate in the Barnsley Central by-election in February 2011 though, typically, he initially put the ‘phone down on the Prime Minister because he thought the call was a hoax’.
He did have one chance of playing in the IPL, when he put himself up for the 2009 tournament, and his reaction to missing out showed the flannel-free quality that so endeared him to his followers.
“Of course I was disappointed,” he said. “It makes me laugh to see interviews with people who say they aren’t in it for the money – that’s absolute rubbish.”
Very few sporting heroes succeed with so little effort to carry on living up to the nickname they are given in their heyday.
But Gough has managed it without even trying, which makes you think that with young Archer winning a contract worth four-fifths this of a million quid, the sums the Dazzler might have trousered from the IPL could have been truly blinding.
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