Darren Gough is brimming with all the enthusiasm that made him one of cricket’s great characters as he assesses the England team he has watched emulate his own achievement of winning in Sri Lanka.
‘Joe Root has been brilliant,’ says the spearhead of Nasser Hussain’s 2001 side. ‘I’ve never doubted him. It’s not easy for anyone to captain the side at first. It takes time because they have to learn on the job these days.
‘I remember Michael Vaughan’s face when Nasser gave up the captaincy. He just didn’t get it at first but he grew into it and every series he got better.
Darren Gough is relishing being back in the bubble of Test cricket with talkSPORT in Sri Lanka
‘I think Joe has been magnificent. The passion he showed in that last game. I’ve heard Shane Warne say he should give the captaincy to Jos Buttler. Absolutely ridiculous. To captain three spinners in Galle and Kandy? The first time he’s done it? I think he got it spot on.’
Then there is one of his successors as the leader of England’s attack in the imperious Jimmy Anderson.
‘If Jimmy stays fit he’s got two more years in him,’ said Gough, warming to his subject. ‘He could potentially take another 65 to 90 wickets.
‘The longevity to stay fit that long and still want to hit those heights is amazing. He’ll be looking at 650.
‘That will be in his head I reckon. Stuart Broad will think he can still catch him but Jimmy will want to put him out of sight.’
Gough is one of the leading analysts alongside presenter Mark Nicholas on the radio
Gough is full of praise for Jimmy Anderson and believes he can reach 650 Test wickets
Gough, at 48, is clearly relishing being back in the cricket ‘bubble’ as one of the leading analysts in talkSPORT 2’s excellent coverage of this tour.
He has been away more than 10 years, doing things like winning Strictly Come Dancing and carving out a career as co-presenter of the station’s flagship drive-time show displaying just as much knowledge of football as the sport that made his name. But this is his first love.
‘You do miss it,’ he tells Sportsmail of his time away from cricket. ‘Speak to anyone who has been in the game. But I’m lucky enough to have a job now where you get the best of both worlds.
‘I’ll never change. I get on with most people, I’m a communicator and I enjoy my life. I love cricket and it’s no different for me now.
‘I’ve been out of the game long enough to know the boys but be distant from them and what I do notice since I’ve come back is they’ve got respect for me and that’s nice.
‘They come and chat and ask me things and it’s good to be part of that. You’re always in the club once you’ve played for England.’
Gough admits he has missed the game during his absence of more than 10 years
Sri Lanka is the perfect country for Gough’s ‘return’ as a cricket commentator as it was here that he enjoyed one of his best tours when Hussain’s England came from one down to win the series 2-1.
‘Of course it’s brought back memories. For me 2001 was the best tour I ever had. We won in the dark in Pakistan and then we came here.
‘The team was the best it could be. The spirit was the best it could be. The coaching was getting to a standard where it should be playing for England and everybody knew their role. It was so focused. It was just brilliant.
‘Nasser was the perfect captain for me. He gave me a kick up the backside when I needed it and Duncan Fletcher knew how to get you onside at that time.
‘Everything was rosy and that was the start of everything going in the right direction. Nasser and Fletch began the journey that led to the Ashes in 2005 and beyond, there’s no doubt about that.
‘Under Nasser you could see a big forward step to where England were going. I needed to see the passion Nasser had. You looked into his eyes and I knew he wanted it as badly as I did. His style was just perfect for me.’
Sri Lanka is perfect for Gough’s return, where he spearheaded England’s series win in 2001
Gough admits: ‘The team was the best it could be. The spirit was the best it could be’
On Nasser Hussain: ‘He was the perfect captain for me. He gave me a kick up the backside’
Gough would be perfect now, too, for Joe Root’s attacking England. He will be remembered as one of England’s best fast bowlers but he could have achieved so much more had the start of his career coincided with the central contract era – and had he not suffered serious injury to his right knee.
‘I set myself high targets and around that time in 2001 I was getting player of the series awards and affecting games,’ said Gough. ‘But I went to New Zealand and did the knee for the first time and didn’t play for 18 months.
‘I tried to come back against South Africa in 2003 but when I look back now I should have said “no I’m not fit enough.” I walked off at Lord’s and said to Nasser; “that’s it mate”, and he was the only one I told.
‘I took my trousers off on the third or fourth day and my leg was double the size it was meant to be. I then went and had surgery straight after the game and had my cartilage taken out.
‘I knew then I only had a certain amount of time before I would need major work on it but I was able to play maybe four more years of one-day cricket and the odd four-day game. Then I struggled until I finally had the op.’
Gough admits he is disappointed he didn’t reach the 300-mark for Test wickets
Gough played his final Test against South Africa in 2003 and he admits he was not fit enough
The op was major surgery two years ago that left Gough with seven metal screws in his leg and an eight-inch scar above his knee. The physical implications of a career spent bowling fast will be with him forever.
‘It affects me every day,’ he said. ‘You wouldn’t believe it. It’s quite emotional to think about it because it affects your life. It’s not finished yet either. It’s on-going.
‘In another 10 years I might have to have the screws taken out and new ones put in. I’ll never be able to run properly again.
‘If I do try to run it’s like I’ve got a false leg. Which it is really. I can’t put any weight on it. I have to cycle to keep fit.’
A serious injury to Gough’s right knee curtailed the final years of his Test career
Gough was able to play ODI cricket for another three years before his final appearance in 2006
Ask him about his career now and it is clear Gough feels a little cheated by the injury: ‘I reckon I got done for a couple of hundred Test wickets but, hey, I had a good run and I was happy with my strike rate.
‘I was just disappointed I didn’t get to 300. I had a great career and I’m totally happy I played for England as many times as I did but when I came back from injury I was still good but I wasn’t great. That made a big difference.’
However now he has another career in front of the microphone as part of the new-look talkSPORT team who have had almost as good a tour as England.
‘I was so excited about this. When I finished playing cricket I had the opportunity to do some commentary then but I just needed a break from the game.
‘I’d been away from home for so long so many times and a lot of things had happened so I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
‘But I always kept in touch with what was going on because I’m a cricket nerd basically. I do a lot of research on everything that’s happening.
‘But I was fortunate enough to get a job with talkSPORT and have been to three football World Cups and two European Championships and it’s been a ball.
Gough admits being part of talkSPORT’s commentary team has been ‘everything he hoped’
‘When we got the cricket rights I didn’t really know what to expect but it’s been everything I hoped it would be.
‘It’s been great to watch and you kind of really fall back in love with the game watching these two Tests. They’ve been excellent and there’s been some cracking cricket.
‘We’re learning as we go along but we try to give a different voice to the radio coverage and we’ve tried to make it fun.
‘We’re all cricket nuts and everyone involved is obsessed about the game and in love with it. It’s gone down well by all accounts and I’ve had messages from people you wouldn’t expect to get messages from saying how much they’ve enjoyed it. It’s been unbelievable.’ And the game is richer for the return of the Dazzler.