England in South Africa 2004-05 February 16, 2005

Gleeful Gough returns to top form

Cricinfo staff

Darren Gough: the dazzle is back in his game © Getty Images

Darren Gough is back, and he is delighted to let people know all about it. At the age of 34, and after a chronic knee injury that forced him to retire from Test cricket, most critics assumed he was coming to the end of a glittering ten-year career. But now, after an outstanding personal performance in England's 4-1 series defeat in South Africa, he has confirmed his fitness and continued importance to England's cause, and his dream of taking part in the 2007 World Cup is alive and kicking.

"I've been written off plenty of times and I'm sure it will happen again," Gough was quoted as saying on the Sporting Life website. "But what those critics don't understand is that I'm a decent bowler. I've been playing for England for 10 years now. All the players want me in the team, as does the captain and the coach. It's only critics in the media who try to write me off and all I can do is keep proving them wrong."

Last summer, Gough made a high-profile move from Yorkshire to Essex in a bid to prolong his international career. It was seen in some quarters as a bit of a futile gesture, but as England proved in South Africa, there really is no-one else in the country who can rival his experience and expertise in tight situations. "We lost the series but the encouraging thing was we could have won every game except one," said Gough. "The thing that let us down was the inexperience of the bowling at the end of the innings."

In that respect, the absence of Andrew Flintoff proved crucial, and Gough was adamant that, with Freddie back in tow, the Australians could be beaten next summer. "The big positive is when Flintoff comes back, he will be the one bowling with me at the end. That will make a huge difference. I'll be playing against Australia as long I continue to perform like I did in South Africa and manage to stay injury-free. We can win but we will need all our players fit, especially Flintoff."

England couldn't make up for Flintoff's absence with the ball, but with the bat they had a ready-made replacement in Kevin Pietersen, who stormed into recognition with three centuries and 454 runs in six innings. Off the field, he and Gough were virtually inseparable as well, and it was Gough who suggested the idea of a three-lions tattoo, to cement Pietersen's allegiance to England's cause.

"He's a great lad and we've become best mates," said Gough. "I wasn't surprised by the impact Kevin made, because we've all seen him play country cricket where he scores plenty of runs. He was in a difficult situation because he is from South Africa originally, but he's a very entertaining player and he dealt with that very well."