West Indies v England, 7th ODI, Barbados May 4, 2004

Gough nears the end of the road

Wisden Cricinfo staff

No answer: Darren Gough was powerless to prevent West Indies' back-to-back wins in St Lucia © Getty Images
The vultures are circling round Darren Gough. Although endless rain has limited him to three and a bit appearances in the Caribbean, many people have seen enough to convince themselves that Wednesday's seventh and, mercifully, final one-dayer will be the last of his illustrious career.

It's not that Gough hasn't been trying. As always, he has given his all, but his all is no longer good enough. As a one-day bowler, he will be remembered as one of England's finest. But whereas in the past he mixed pace with guile, now all that's left is guile, and even then there hasn't been too much evidence of that.

On Sunday, Gough commanded no respect from the West Indies batsmen - several times he was smacked back over his head. Until recently that would have been answered with a snorter, either a yorker or bouncer, to remind the batsman how unwise his actions had been and just who he was dealing with. But in St Lucia there was no response. Gough ended with 1 for 67 off 8.1 overs, conceding more than eight an over for the first time in his ODI career.

The decline has been alarming, and it must be causing a few jitters with his new employers in Essex. As recently as last summer, he was at his chest-pufffing best against South Africa. But less than nine months later, the cupboard looks bare. In fairness, it is hardly surprising, given the seriousness of the injuries he has suffered in the twilight of his career, that his body is packing in fairly rapidly.

He worked hard in the gym after the end of the English summer and convinced the selectors that he was fit. But he was like a shot heavyweight - physically looking as good as ever, but with no punch. They say a boxer can 'lose it' alarmingly quickly, even in the course of one fight. So, it seems, can fast bowlers.

In a sport with an increasing emphasis on youth, the inclusion of Gough in the England side was seen as the possible exception to the trend. The older head, a legend to encourage the young guns, to lead by canny example. Even though he still has enthusiasm by the bucketful, he simply cannot hack it where it matters.

It might be foolish to write him off - many have done so in the past, only to have to eat their words. This time, however, there is a feeling that the writing really is on the wall.

He should be allowed a final tilt at the windmill, and despite mediocre performances he ought to play at Bridgetown, bowing out in front of a full house and, hopefully, with respectable figures. He deserves nothing less.