I Developed My Yorker, Reverse Swing Watching Wasim and Waqar Bowl: Darren Gough
Darren Gough picked over 450 Test wickets for England ©AFP

Former England fast bowler Darren Gough sat down for a chat with PakPassion, where he discussed his experience of playing in Pakistan, alongside their players and how seeing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowl left an impact on him.

You toured Pakistan on a couple of occasions, what was the experience like?

I’ve always loved going to Pakistan and I’ve had some great tours out there. During the 1996 World Cup, we were based in Lahore and I had a great experience. We stayed at the Pearl Continental which was really nice and the practice facilities provided were great. We were well looked after and I had a great time.

What are your memories of the Pakistan leg of the 1996 World Cup?

We were based in Lahore ahead of the 1996 World Cup which of course was held in three countries. To be honest, it was hard work for the pace bowlers. Dominic Cork, Peter Martin and I had to spend a lot of time out there to acclimatise as we just weren’t used to those types of conditions. The fact was that our team just had not adapted to those conditions, in terms of our batsmen and their ability to face spinners or the type of bowlers we had in our squad. Most of our cricketers in that World Cup were English-type cricketers who just were not suited to the pitches out there and that’s why we struggled.

What were the pitches like in Pakistan when you were out there?

The pitches were flat as you would expect and it was hard work, but you had to be on top of your game every single day as a bowler and there was no respite. If you were a spinner you might have got some help from the pitches, but if you didn’t do anything special with the ball as a fast-bowler it was going to be hard work.

How well did you and your team-mates adapt to life in Pakistan during the tours that you were part of?

We had great fun. We were regular visitors to the British High Commission in Lahore to stock up on food as we had a couple of guys in our squad like Alec Stewart and Jack Russell who were really picky eaters and all they ate was either tuna sandwiches or chicken breast or potatoes or baked beans. In fact, I think in Jack Russell’s case all he ate on that tour was baked beans.

Luckily for them, the British High Commission wasn’t too far away and there was a shop near the High Commission which sold all of the English food they wanted. I prefer to embrace the local cuisine wherever I go, and I ate the local food. I remember going to a restaurant in Peshawar and sitting on the floor while we ate our food which was an unbelievable and great experience. I was with Mike Atherton and a couple of other team-mates, we sat on the floor at the restaurant and ate which was an amazing experience as I had never done that before.

What are your memories of the historic Karachi Test match of 2000 which ended in near-darkness?

I had bowled well in the previous Test match, so I was feeling confident. We knew about Pakistan’s Test record in Karachi and we knew it was going to be hard work as Pakistan had some good players like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mohammad Yousuf, Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Danish Kaneria. On paper, Pakistan were a lot better than we were, but what we had a serious team spirit amongst us. That team spirit had started the year before against West Indies and it carried on to the tour of Sri Lanka where we won, and it continued onto the tour of Pakistan where we also won. It was the best team-spirit I have ever seen, and all the players would be together eating, drinking, taking part in activities every night throughout that tour.

To win that Test match in Karachi was quite extraordinary when you think back about it. Going into the final day there was just no chance of a result, but somehow we tied them down and they made a few risky calls and we got the wickets and then chased it down in the dark which was incredible. By the time the players came off, I remember celebrating on the balcony and it was pitch black. In fact, I reckon it was that dark that had the match not finished earlier, there would only have been time for just one more over and we would have had to go off. Moin Khan tried everything he possibly could but we managed to get that result which was a huge result for us.

Beating Pakistan in Pakistan was just amazing really and there are not many teams who had done that. That group of players took that win forward for the rest of their careers and after that believed they could beat anyone.

You were one of the first English bowlers to perfect the art of reverse-swing. How did you develop that skill?

Football was always my upbringing. I had never been to a professional cricket match or ground until I played for Yorkshire 2nd XI, so it was all just about football. But my cricket career took-off pretty quickly in 1988 when Yorkshire had a few injuries and I got a game for their second team after doing well for their Under 19s. Suddenly then in 1989, I was called up to play for Yorkshire first XI.

At that time my cricketing influence had come from Ian Botham after watching him in 1981 against Australia and my fellow Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott off course. Suddenly then Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis came over to England in 1992 and I remember watching them bowl and thinking Oh My God because nothing was flat and anything was possible when they were bowling. England would get off to good starts in that series 100 for none, 120 for 2 and then suddenly they were 170 all out and I thought there has to be something in this.

So, I watched Wasim and Waqar with great interest and I practised and practised and practised. I was always good at bowling yorkers because I bowled at the death from 19 years of age in One-day cricket for Yorkshire, but I never had that pace and that inswing, I just had that natural talent to bowl a decent yorker. I practised every day and because I was skiddy and had a fast-arm I started working a little bit with my action and dropping my arm a little bit like Waqar used to do. In 1993 I started doing the double-twirl as Waqar did and then I developed my own rhythm and confidence to bowl reverse-swing. For 5 years of my career, my reverse-swinging yorkers were right up there but it was mainly down to the influence of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.

When Wasim and Waqar were reverse-swinging the ball it was regarded as ball-tampering, yet when others started reverse-swinging the ball it suddenly became a skill.

It’s amazing really isn’t it. I think it was because of the history of it, where a couple of people had been caught doing stuff to the ball in the past. From my experience, I had also watched players doing it and seen players doing their best to make the ball dryer on one side and more abrasive on one side, and this was being done all around the world. It’s like the hidden rule where nobody says anything about it until they get caught.

We even had Michael Atherton putting dirt on the ball for this reason, but he wasn’t using his nails. I was bowling at the time and Ian Salisbury was bowling at the other end and a spinner always puts his hand down on the crease to keep his hand dry and he was doing that. I think Atherton innocently thought he would keep the ball dry on one side and sprinkled dirt on the ball. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but he saw Salisbury doing it and for some reason, he put his hand in his pocket and the rest is history. But I definitely got reverse-swing that day, so I didn’t complain and I got 8 wickets in the match, 4 wickets in each innings.

Unfortunately, the suspicions will always be there as soon as anyone starts to reverse the ball these days – it’s the first thing that is looked for. Reverse-swing can be done naturally, and also sometimes players do it in other ways such as throwing the ball into the wicket-keeper on the bounce. Warwickshire, for example, used to scuff the ball up on their dry pitches in One-day cricket. So, there are lots of ways this can be done, but it can definitely be done naturally. I can honestly say I did not have the fingernails to scratch the ball when I bowled. I honestly mean this, and I did it naturally. I had a fast arm, I had a low arm, and a nice side-on action and I used to get further round in my action when I wanted to reverse-swing the ball and I was a natural reverse-swing bowler.

You came across Shoaib Akhtar a few times, what was he like as an opponent?

Shoaib was the new kid on the block, obviously younger than me, but he was horrible to face. I remember at Durham defending a ball from him on the back foot and much to my amazement it went for four and I thought ‘oh dear me!’ He wasn’t impressed and the next two balls were lightning-fast and whistled past my ears. When he wanted to bowl quick, he was ridiculously fast. Even off a short run-up in Sharjah when Robert Croft and I were batting, he was bowling really fast. Crofty just would not run when I wanted a single whilst facing Shoaib. He made sure that he stayed at the non-striker’s end and didn’t face him. He bowled me out with an amazing yorker at Cardiff when I was 35 years old. It was rapid, I never even saw it. When he wanted to be, he was quicker than anybody else and he was a ridiculous talent.

What was it like bowling to the likes of Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf?

I admired Saeed Anwar a lot and I thought that he was an unbelievable batsman. I remember watching him bat for Pakistan before I played international cricket and then I got the opportunity to play against him. He was an amazing talent and he and Aamir Sohail formed a good opening partnership. Ijaz Ahmed was around when I started playing for England and I found him to be a good batsman too. Then later came Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf.

For me, Mohammad Yousuf was the best of the Pakistani batsmen. He was the hardest to dismiss, there was something about him as he was so gutsy and very determined. He always batted with a smile on his face. He understood you and wanted to keep on talking to you and have conversations with you as a bowler. He was that friendly, neighbourly face when you were bowling, but then when you looked at the scoreboard, he’d be closing in on a 50 before you knew it. We had an amazing battle in the 2001 series in England where he got runs and I thought this guy is a serious player. With Inzamam, you had to get him out early, because if he got in, he was very hard to get rid of once settled at the crease. And what can you say about Younis Khan? What a talent that guy was.

You played alongside Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq at Yorkshire, what was that like?

Younis is a lovely man. He is one of the nicest men I have ever met and the people in Yorkshire and Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the players he played with all still have huge respect for Younis. He was a team man who got involved with everything we were doing and as a player, he really excelled himself.

Inzamam played for us at Yorkshire for a short period but he wasn’t really the same. I think it was the end of his career and the hunger just wasn’t there like it was for Younis Khan. Inzi was a little difficult to handle, as in you never saw him at the club other than on match-days. I had to drop him from a one-day game because we were on a good run and he wasn’t playing well. Leaving him out of the one-day side was a big call as he was a top-name overseas player. He was a great player but when we signed Inzamam he didn’t really have that hunger for cricket, and it appeared as if he had nothing left to prove.

You’ve intermittently done some coaching over the years, but is that something you would like to do on a permanent basis?

Of course it is. Realistically, I’ve got a good job in the media but people keep saying to me why don’t you go into coaching. My answer to them is that I do love coaching and I even had my own academy a few years ago with some of the guys going on to play First-Class cricket. I did academy cricket videos for school kids, some of which were BAFTA nominated, so coaching has always been a big part of my life. I’m passionate about coaching and try to make it fun. I did some work a few years ago with England Under-19s and ECB have tried to get me involved the last couple of times when they’ve been looking for a bowling coach. But it’s difficult to take on that role because I’ve got a very good job at this moment in time in the media and I don’t want to be away for 50 weeks a year and that’s what it comes down to.

England did find a way for me to go and help them in New Zealand recently and I enjoyed my trip out there and Saqib Mahmood, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes wrote and said some nice words about me which was good to see. But realistically, it would have to be short-term coaching stints that would interest me because I love my current job and whoever gets me to coach gets the best of both worlds as I have an audience of millions on the radio as well. So, at the moment an international coaching position or a County position isn’t for me, although it might be right for me in future. Having said that, a franchise coaching role of a few weeks in the Indian Premier League or Pakistan Super League would be ideal.

So you would have no problems going to Pakistan do some coaching or media work?

I would have no problem with that at all. I’ve always enjoyed going to Pakistan, the people have always been friendly, and I have some great memories from my trips to Pakistan. Going to Pakistan has never been a problem for me and it still isn’t. I enjoyed the challenge of playing out there, the challenge of the pitches, and most importantly, the challenge of playing Pakistan in Pakistan. I’ve got good memories of going out there and I hope one day I can add to those memories of being out there in Pakistan once again.

What do you make of the young Pakistani pace-bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah?

Pakistan have never struggled for fast-bowlers and never will. These youngsters like Shaheen and Naseem are talented, they have raw pace and they do things on flat pitches that a lot of other bowlers cannot do. They have big hearts which you need on such pitches and are so passionate to succeed. Many Pakistani pace-bowlers don’t have privileged upbringings, so they work hard, and want to succeed and do well, make money and obviously want to be famous too. When you have those sorts of attributes it never surprises me with Pakistan and their endless supply-line of young pacers. They are brilliant to watch as they do things that other pacers cannot do as they have been brought up on wickets that are so flat so you have to be able to do something with the ball to succeed there.

The biggest problem for Pakistani pacers is when they come to the likes of England and they see the ball seaming around and they kind of don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t ease off the pace and do what the likes of Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq did when they played in England where they both were excellent with their variety, inswing, outswing and slower-balls. Sometimes the young Pakistani pacers just need to take their foot off the pedal when it comes to pace and instead make use of the conditions in places like England. Just look at the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson who are still taking wickets and getting the ball to move around without the need to bowl at 90 MpH.

You’ve seen the highs and lows of a professional cricketer’s career. What advice would you give to young, up and coming pace-bowlers to succeed in the modern game?

Fitness plays a big part in the modern game and central contracts are vital and an integral part of modern cricket. You only have to look at Stuart Broad and James Anderson in England which tells you the story. If you look at the English bowlers prior to them like myself, Andrew Caddick, Angus Fraser, Dean Headley and Dominic Cork, it was the case that if you played 50 Test matches you’d had a great career. But the guys who now have central contracts which started with Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff played 70 or so Test matches and nowadays the guys with the central contracts will go on to play 100 or more Test matches because they are not over-bowled. Central contracts are the key for young pacers. So, my advice to youngsters is that don’t under-bowl when you are young as you need to learn the trade and bowl 20-overs a day. And then when you get to the top level, don’t over-bowl and use your pace sparingly and wisely as you cannot keep bowling 20-overs every day for the rest of your life.

– This interview was first published on PakPassion.net