| Darren Gough is not holding his breath for the West Indies tour
Bangladesh is one of the wettest places on earth, but that was probably not a consideration when the selectors decided to force England’s Test and one-day bowling attack to sink or swim after preferring the likes of Rikki Clarke to old sweats such as Darren Gough and Martin Bicknell.
Clarke is one of four uncapped players in the 15-man Test squad to tour Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, a quartet that includes Gareth Batty, Geraint Jones and Paul Collingwood. But while there are other notable absentees, such as James Kirtley (in for the one-day matches but not the Tests), the selectors’ decision to drop Gough from the one-day party, after winning the Man-of-the-Match award in the NatWest Series final against South Africa, suggests a determination to force the other bowlers to grow up.
David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said: “Darren was bitterly disappointed to be left out, but our target is the 2007 World Cup and we need to put the less experienced bowlers under a little bit more pressure.
“Conditions in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are different from here. Spin will probably play more of a part and we just want to look at a few of our options. But that does not mean Gough will not be considered for the one-day tour of the West Indies.”
Unsurprisingly, Gough feels he has been victimised and reckons Graveney and his panel have got in a pickle trying to keep those selected during the summer, such as Kirtley, happy by finding a place for them in one of the winter squads.
“The selectors had to share out places for all the bowlers who’ve played this summer and I was an easy target to miss out,” Gough said Wednesday. “I know the players are with me and think I should have been picked. Although Graveney said I’ll be in contention for the West Indies, I’m not holding my breath.”
Although a calculated risk, Gough’s absence will provide a good litmus test for those assigned his speciality of bowling at the death. His omission was a unanimous decision, at least according to Graveney, and it is probably not as dicey as taking just three front-line pace bowlers to a part of the world where E.Coli can be as potent as Murali.
With sudden illness a danger, England are clearly hoping Clarke, a batting allrounder at present, will improve his bowling while on tour to become the next Andrew Flintoff. With Clarke claiming just nine championship wickets for Surrey this season, it might seem like wishful thinking, though his county’s policy of employing Azhar Mahmood have limited his opportunities.
“I’ve worked with the Academy coach, Troy Cooley, when I was in England’s one-day squad and my bowling improved over the four weeks by vast amounts,” Clarke said. “But it just seemed to deteriorate to the old ways when I went back to Surrey. So I told coach Keith Medlycott I needed to bowl a lot more. Luckily I’ve been given a bigger role recently.”
One man who will play a secondary role, at least to begin with, is Jones, Kent’s wicketkeeper. After his impressive showing in the one-day series, Chris Read has been told he begins the tour as the Test No. 1 wicketkeeper.
The return of Collingwood, after a frustrating summer of sitting on the sidelines following an operation is welcomed, though giving him a 12-month central contract, one of only eight awarded, suggests he is one of Duncan Fletcher’s darlings. With 15 wickets in seven Tests, Ashley Giles also has one, which means they cannot be performance related. The others are Michael Vaughan, James Anderson, Mark Butcher, Flintoff, Nasser Hussain and Marcus Trescothick.
The appointment of Lancashire coach Mike Watkinson as Fletcher’s assistant for the pre-Christmas tours looks a shrewd appointment. When he was not giving the ball a hearty thump, Watkinson mixed seam and spin during his career and both Flintoff and Anderson credit the rapid improvements in their cricket to him.
Cooley will replace Watkinson for the West Indies leg in the new year, by which time, Simon Jones, one of Cooley’s charges at the Academy this winter, should be fully fit and ready to unleash his thunderbolts at Brian Lara and Co. The Daily Telegraph