Darren Gough won the Vodafone England Cricketer of the Year award, 15 years ago…
When Darren Gough arrived on the English cricket horizon like a breath of fresh air, the otherwise reticent, and tight-lipped Poms lost no time in heralding the onset of the Gough Era. Critics too joined the bandwagon and placed their new hero alongside the likes of classy allrounders. More so, because runs and wickets came Gough’s way with uninhibited flourish and enjoyment. No small wonder why he was hailed as England’s new ‘Ian Botham.’ Well – almost.
What’s more, England’s expectations were now linked with Gough’s rising graph. And, they soon reached their solemn apogee. The outcome was obvious. Gough not only became one of his country’s highest paid cricketers, but also found himself to be the ‘darling of the camera,’ not to speak of the media. He was the cynosure of all eyes, yes; fortunately, his performance, with all its rewards and pressures, more than made up for the experts to sit up and analyse their new subject – a subject whose potential was immense and exciting too. It was a typical English response: Gough was a shot in the arm and a tonic to rejuvenating England’s anaemic downslide in the game.
With all the hoopla, Gough’s sense of conviction had emerged. He began to earn respect from his fellow-players who recognised his innate talent – not so much as to what he might become, but what he had actually achieved. A formula that was in tune with Gough’s defiant psyche – of a man who took pride in performance, be it for his county, or country. He was equal to that task, what with the soaring expectations of the English public.
Gough’s baptism into Test cricket was like a fairy tale. He took as many as 14 wickets in his first two appearances. But, the celebrations were short-lived. He went through a drought, a short while later, capturing just three wickets in as many Tests. This, indeed, was a valuable lesson for a new entrant to Test cricket – and, its hard truths. But, come Ashes Series 1994-95, Gough was on a song from the word go. He grabbed 20 wickets in the three Ashes Tests, and his magical assault on Craig McDermott, in Sydney, gave credence to one widely-held belief that Gough had it all in him – Yorkshire’s tough sporting platform, natural exuberance, good cricketing skills, and talent – in both the versions of the game.
Yet, it wasn’t all ecstasy. Again. While England was struggling in Australia, Gough was back home with his mission incomplete. His leg was in plaster, from knee downwards. But, his faith was as strong as ever. He laughed at his ‘cast,’ and quipped: “Like in Test cricket, I’ve also got to learn in life.” It reflected his healthy attitude, and a positive belief in the laws of karma – in all its innumerable forms.
Sweeping generalisations are easy to sermonise; but, difficult to fathom in times of adversity. Not for Gough who found constancy in the face of uncertainty. He was back in the reckoning, soon after his recuperation. Not that he did find the going easy. But, he got going, because he’s tough. Since then, he had his lay-offs from the English side, yes. More than that, he had to also prove that his will to succeed was at its exalted place. In his mind. The tour of New Zealand confirmed his skills, no less – and, his form was more than decent, and purposeful, against the Australians, who were in England, thereafter.
Gough was a definitive part of a ‘resurgent’ English side. He once missed the Caribbean sojourn, all right and, more importantly, some runs and wickets too, because he wanted to be at his pregnant wife’s bedside at the maternity home – all to savour one of life’s most golden moments. It showed the human[e] side of the pace-man, who was more than a hard nut to crack with a ball/bat in hand – a vigorous competitor on the field. He also made up for lost time and was back, with renewed vigour, against Hansie Cronje’s Proteas’ side. His was an efficient act – in Australia and during England’s long cherished, unfulfilled bid to engineering a ‘coup’ at World Cup 1999.
Gough also laid his claims to being labelled a genuine fast bowler who could bat with more than an aggressive frame of conviction and dependability. Yet, for all practical considerations, Gough did not get his county cap easily. It took him four years to get the nod from the selectors who had watched him as something of a rare talent, destined for higher honours. That Gough did not disappoint them was obvious. But, it goes without saying that he never really fulfilled his enormous potential, in spite of great media attention.
Gough was a fast bowler who carried a teddy bear. Strange. But, it showed his compassionate, child-like, not childish, aspect. This is a ploy that is good for one’s psyche, mind-body harmony – because, to do well in life, more so in tough, complex situations, one should never lose the child in oneself. As Gough confessed: “It’s something, which I’ve always had in my kit, since I was 16. I’ve got two little – you won’t believe this. They’re like two little teddies. One’s a Garfield, and the other one’s a little monkey. I’ve always had them… I don’t know why.”
For a man who’s not afraid of success or failure, Gough was not overawed by similes, or comparisons, which marked him as a man to watch. He once said that all he’d got to do was to perform his role, or job, and do it well. This revealed his down-to-earth mindset. In his own words: “I am determined to be myself, on the field and off the field. Cricket is a serious business. I like what I am doing. It is not all pressure and stress. Well, if it’s not my day I can take a beating and I will come back the next time even more determined to come out on top. That’s how I take pride and pleasure in my cricket.”
Gough just loved giving his all. Whether or not he registered his own patent, alongside English cricket’s one big hero, Botham – a mercurial, no-holds-barred entertainer who scored runs, took wickets aplenty, also smoked pot, and performed a Hannibal ‘Walk,’ with a pachyderm, across the Alps, for leukaemia research – never bothered him.
He wanted to just do it – and, do it well. With a smile. This was his class act.
– Photo, Courtesy: Evening Standard