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May 22, 2009
Darren Gough believes England can use the forthcoming ICC World Twenty20 to build vital momentum ahead of Australia's arrival later this summer, and that they will go into the Ashes as favourites after the team gelled impressively during the recent Test series victory over West Indies.
Tests and Twenty20s may be chalk and cheese but Gough knows from personal experience just how significant a factor momentum can be, after his starring role in England's crushing 100-run victory in the first Twenty20 between England and Australia at the Rose Bowl in 2005.
After posting a competitive total of 179, England's bowlers ripped into Australia, capturing seven wickets for eight runs in 20 deliveries. Gough himself finished with 3 for 16 from three overs and, in one of the contest's defining moments, sacrificed the chance to go for a hat-trick when he instead decided to bounce the incoming Andrew Symonds.
"I think the image we were trying to set to Australia was that we were ready for a fight," Gough told Cricinfo. "They tended to be slow starters, so we went out there pretty pumped, and I was as pumped as anyone. We hit them hard, and it set the tone for the rest of the summer. It was a good year for England, and for English cricket."
"I was thinking about bowling another yorker for the hat-trick, but Vaughany [Michael Vaughan] came over to me and said, no, remember the tone we're trying to set, bowl it short. I said, 'Don't worry, that's what's happening'. The passion was running through my veins and that was that. I was pumped up and it was a sight that got people right behind England."
Four years on, and Gough believes a similar scenario could pan out in the coming weeks, even though the personnel involved in the Twenty20 campaign will be significantly different from the Test side, not least with a different captain in Paul Collingwood, who has stepped in in place of Andrew Strauss.
"England have realised you have to pick the best team for the format, then take the captain from those players," said Gough, who played no part in the Ashes four years ago, having retired from Test cricket in 2003, while his fellow seamer at the Rose Bowl, Jon Lewis, played his one and only Test the following summer. "It's about momentum," he added. "If you can start with a win, things tend to go your way, and England have Holland (The Netherlands) in their first game, so they should win convincingly."
As for any concerns that the country had its priorities skewed, in focussing on the Ashes in July even though a global tournament is taking place in England next week, Gough was unequivocal. "The focus is spot on. We've got a big tournament coming up but the Ashes is what everyone wants to see, every cricket fan is interested, and that shows that Test cricket is massively alive. The Twenty20s will be exciting but it's a short game and you can't pick a winner. In the Ashes, the best team usually wins, and for that reason it's going to be a great series."
Since retirement, Gough has his fingers in all sorts of pies, including - no doubt to the amusement of Rod Marsh - Pork Farms, "the official snack partner of the 2009 Ashes". But he doesn't see England's attack serving up too many of those in the coming weeks, having been very impressed with the development of James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the recent Tests against West Indies.
"Anderson is a top bowler, he's turning into a very very good bowler," Gough said. "Broady, meanwhile, is maturing all the time, last year didn't get his dues, but he's one of the best in the side now and deserves his starting berth in the Ashes. With [Andrew] Flintoff to come back as well, and good back-up in the likes of [Graham] Onions, [Sajid] Mahmood and [Liam] Plunkett, England have got the men to win the Ashes.
"I thought they did well against West Iindies, who were a poor outfit and their body language was terrible, but you still have to beat them and England put in a great performance. I'd have liked to have seen the batters have more than two knocks each but, as they say, you can only beat what's in front of you, and England did that."
As for the Australians, Gough expected them to arrive full of their usual confidence but suspected an innate weakness might be there to be exploited. "They'll come over here with their usual banter and they'll believe they can win, but their batting doesn't have much depth, and they don't have the spinners to worry England.
"They've picked a side to win in English conditions, and with McDonald in for Symonds, they've gone for a seam-dominated attack. But if they look around, they'll admit to themselves that Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne could still walk into that team. Three 40-year-olds could still be in their starting line-up, and that's a real worry for them. It's also why I think England will win."
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa