2,310 international wickets in one picture; Saqlain Mushtaq (left), Darren Gough (middle), and Muttiah Muralitharan (right) are currently playing MCL 2016. Photo Courtesy: MCL on Facebook
2,310 international wickets in one picture; Saqlain Mushtaq (left), Darren Gough (middle), and Muttiah Muralitharan (right) are currently playing MCL 2016. Photo Courtesy: MCL on Facebook

There was much to like about Darren Gough the cricketer; he was lion-hearted, feisty, and skilful. Above all, he was entertaining. As leader of England’s pace attack Gough took 467 international wickets over the course of a 12-year career, but his contributions were more than what the record books would suggest. Gough was a character who could galvanise his team and get under the skin of the opposition. David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd once described him as a “little fat kid from Barnsley” whose strategy for tackling the opposition was to “knock their f**king heads off.” Gough is currently playing for Leo Lions in the Masters Champions League (MCL) 2016. Shiamak Unwalla spoke to him about his career, which batsman he is glad at not having to bowl to, his cricketing idols, and the future of Test cricket, among other things. READ: Darren Gough: A dazzling, entertaining cricketer; England and Yorkshire legend

Excerpt from an interview:

CricketCountry (CC): How has your experience with the Leo Lions and Masters Champions League (MCL) been so far?

Darren Gough (DG): Absolutely fantastic, for someone who has been retired quite a few years. I have a competitive nature naturally and I love cricket, so for me to get the opportunity to come out here and be a part of a great competition, I am really pleased and have really enjoyed my time here.

CC: Who do you get along with best in the Leo Lions?

DG: Everyone. I get along with absolutely everyone. I’ve never had an issue with any players; we all take the mickey out of each other on a daily basis. Obviously you tend to know England players better than a lot of the other players, so even though I am 10 years older than him, Simon Jones. But I’ve known Herschelle Gibbs since he was 17 years old, so I’ve known him quite a few years as well.

CC: You always came across as a vibrant personality, so I’m sure you have a few good stories. Are there any anecdotes that you can relate from your playing days?

DG: (Laughs) Playing international cricket over many years gets you many memories be it on the field or off it. But the one I like to always talk about is when I pulled my tongue out against Ridley Jacobs when we played the West Indies. I think that was a very funny moment. I did the ghost impression against Shane Watson, so things like that. I was probably a little bit edgy as a cricketer, but I really enjoyed my time out in the middle. Those two are special moments, and long after I’m retired people, way after the MCL, people would remember me for having fun on the cricket pitch. And you never know — there might be a surprise up my sleeves for the MCL.

CC: Is there any batsman in the world currently that you are glad you did not have to bowl to?

DG: All of them (laughs). I’ve bowled at quite a few of the guys. I’ve bowled at Brendon McCullum, so I’ve bowled at these guys anyway. People forget, but back in our day we used to have players like Michael Slater, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Michael Bevan, Sourav Ganguly, Abdul Razzaq, you could go on and on. Every team had someone who could smash you out of the park. The difference is, the way they strike the ball now, there’s a lot more of that type of batsman. But if you look at one modern player that would be hard to bowl at, it’s AB de Villiers. He can play 360 degrees around the cricket pitch. And that’s very difficult, when you’re the bowler and you know the batsman can reverse sweep you, sweep you, hit you over cow corner, then he’s probably the best in the business. If you see, England have got one of those as well. He’s not quite as good yet, but we’ve got Jos Buttler who can hit the ball absolutely anywhere on a cricket field.

I think in one-day cricket Virat Kohli is right up there.

CC: There are four batsmen currently who are rated as the best young batsmen in the world: Joe Root, Steven Smith, Kane Williamson, and Virat Kohli. Who do you rate as the best of the lot?

DG: Oh, that’s a difficult one. I think in one-day cricket Virat Kohli is right up there. I think you would have to say he is probably the best, in one-day cricket. His consistency is scoring runs against the very best teams is evident for all to see. But if you look at all forms of the game, especially Test cricket, I think Joe Root is just a fantastic player. Technically he’s superb, he’s just got everything. Steven Smith is a player who technically has faults but he is gutsy and gritty, and he finds a way to score big, doesn’t he? So they all have different attributes, but I’m going to favour the English lad Root. I think against any team, against any bowling attack he finds a way to score runs and does it elegantly and scores at an impressive run rate.

CC: Which cricketer did you idolise growing up?

DG: Ian Botham. In 1981 I was 11 years old, and he won The Ashes basically on his own, so I think he’s one player you have to admire. But I also used to love a lot of the West Indian cricketers. Malcolm Marshall would be my favourite. I thought he was a wonderful performer and character. He was small in stature and he would swing the ball at 90-odd miles an hour. He was pretty special for me growing up.

CC: Who was your favourite opponent to play against?

DG: Oh I enjoyed playing against all teams, but I think the one team being an Englishman whenever you play against Australia it was always a battle. Unfortunately for me as an individual I played in six Ashes series, yet I never won one. We won the odd Test match but never won a series. I enjoyed some of the battles I’ve had. When I first started there were Slater and Steve Waugh, and then came Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. Now Gilchrist used to come in at No. 7, and I’d have bowled 15 or 20 overs, and he’d come in and decide he wanted to hit everyone out of the park. I’d have to say Gilchrist is the hardest opposition batsman I’ve played against. I’m not saying he was the best batsman, but the hardest opponent purely because when he came in I’d have already bowled 15 or 20 overs, and the ball was old. He was an absolutely brilliant player.

CC: Do you have a favourite Ashes moment?

DG: There are two. We beat them in Melbourne in 1998-99, they only needed 175 to win and I took the final wicket, I had two wickets in an over. That was impressive. Then in the next Test I took a hat-trick, the only one this century at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). So getting a hat-trick and it being the only one of the century was pretty special.

We need to change, and that’s why Day-Night Test cricket is so vital.

CC: Do you agree when people say that Test cricket is dying?

DG: I think we need to find ways to improve Test cricket. I really like the Day-Night Test matches. I think one-day cricket is such a brand now, and T20 cricket is something that everybody enjoys. And you’ve got to keep improving your brand. The problem now is all the cricketers are contracted to play for their countries. And all the records from years and years ago, the history of the game, are going to be broken. Because every Test player now who plays for England, if he’s any good, will get 300 Test wickets all the time, because they are contracted by their country and they play Test after Test, and don’t have to go play county cricket in between. Jimmy Anderson has 400 Test wickets, Stuart Broad has 300, Steven Finn is probably going to get 300; if you look back to even the guys who came just after me, Andrew Flintoff, Steven Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, they all got 200 wickets. I think the game has changed anyway, so if we have to rebrand it and do something different we should do things like play day-night Test cricket. But we’ve still got the history of the beautiful game we’ve all played.

CC: What do you think of all the T20 leagues coming up in the world? IPL, BBL, CPL, now PSL?

DG: It’s a brand that everybody loves. It’s three hours long, and it’s fantastic. I’ve got two children, they’re not young any more — they are 21 and 18. My older boy plays for Essex and the younger boy is just coming through the ranks now. My older boy still loves playing the longer form of the game, but when they watch cricket it’s just T20s.

I agree with not picking Kevin Pietersen for Tests and ODIs, but as a T20 player he can still fit into this England side and make it better.

And now it’s the future, unfortunately. It is three hours long, so people can come back from work and take their family out for a picnic to the cricket. The problem with Test cricket is, you go there and it’s eight hours. We’re a busy country, a busy world. People find it difficult to sit there and watch cricket for eight hours a day. So we need to change it, and that’s why Day-Night Test cricket is so vital because it can start at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and people can come down after work with their families and have a barbeque. When you start at 11 o’clock in the morning we miss out on so many fans. T20 cricket is three hours long, everyone loves it, and it’s entertaining: you get music and coloured clothing. If you’re young you’re entertained by the crowd or the dancers, even somebody who is 70 or 80 years old who is going to watch the cricket.

CC: Who is your pick to win the ICC World T20 2016?

DG: India are a very good side, especially in their own country, and they’ll be hard to beat. Australia look really strong when they have their full line-up. And don’t write off England. They’ve got to somehow get Kevin Pietersen. I know it’s an old debate now, but this guy is still getting runs in every single league he plays in. For some reason England is still not picking him. I agree with not picking him for Tests and ODIs, but as a T20 player he can still fit into this England side and make it better.

CC: Is there any advice you would give to budding cricketers?

DG: Cricket is a wonderful career to have, but you have to work hard. You have to be disciplined. You have to train, and you have to go outside your comfort zone. Do things that no other cricketer is practicing. There’s no point in going to the nets and bowling for 45 minutes and thinking that’s it. Practice specific skills so that you have a long career thereafter. Practice your yorker, practice your slower ball. Practice deliveries that people don’t often practice, that’s what will separate you from everyone else.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)