Darren Gough has pinpointed the top order of England’s batting line-up as a key area to improve ahead of a big tour in South Africa.
Former England bowling hero Gough will front live and exclusive talkSPORT radio coverage throughout the series after previously being deployed to New Zealand as part of the England coaching staff.
He has been up close and personal with the current crop of stars and while he sees plenty of signs to be encouraged, there’s still plenty to work on – particularly on the Test side of the game.
England have failed to win a Test series since 2018 despite obvious success in white ball cricket after lifting the Cricket World Cup trophy.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com ahead of the trip to South Africa, Gough said: “When we were the Number 1 team in the world, we had Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook opening the batting and Jonathan Trott at three.
“It was a real strong foundation that enabled players like Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior to play their natural game at five or six down the order.
“We’ve not had that since, and we’re still searching for it, but we’ve got a few good players now.
“Rory Burns is starting to look the part. People always question him technically, the way he looks at the crease but his results are delivering at the moment.
“Dom Sibley’s going to get a chance in South Africa, Zak Crawley is someone I’m usually impressed by. He’s a wonderful young man with real determination to do well in the game.
“Joe Denly has to produce at three. He might just be the man who can get stuck in, and that would allow Joe Root to bat at four. And if none of that works, you’ve got Jonny Bairstow now he’s been picked for the squad and he can bat anywhere from three to seven.”
Gough enjoyed his time in New Zealand working alongside the likes of fast bowling sensation Jofra Archer and captain Joe Root, and learned plenty from his experience on the other side of the planet.
He said: “The golf courses are great, the pinot noir is as good as it gets, and how hard this team works, how much they are determined to get back to being the Number 1 team in the world!
“They’re having to start from the beginning again, they’re having a rebuild. The way they have been playing Test cricket in the past two or three years has not been good enough, with no responsibility.
“You look at Wagner who is the most successful bowler for New Zealand – he’s not quick, he has no skills that any of our bowlers haven’t got, but what he did have is a big heart, he banged the pitch harder than he had to, he tried yorkers, he tried slow balls, so it’s up to each individual to find an edge to their game, another five per cent.
“I’ve seen [Archer] bowling a few matches over this year and I’ve seen him up close in how he goes about his things.
“It’s different to how I used to go about things, but you get that in this day and age.
“I was laid-back, but he’s more laid-back than I was. He practices hard for short periods of time rather than any length of time.
“He’s trying to manage his workload but he’s such a talented individual playing in all forms of the game.”
As for Root, the England Test captain experienced a mixed time in New Zealand following a disappointing opening pair of innings followed by a mammoth haul of 226 in the second Test.
His sketchy form throughout 2019 led to scrutiny over his position as captain among fans, particularly considering the influence of BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2019 winner Ben Stokes.
But Goughie has staunch opinions on whether Root should retain the captaincy: “100 per cent.
“I’m saying that as someone who has been there, around the team and dressing room, seen him speak to the boys and the respect he holds, the way he goes about his game, the example he sets in training.
“Everything about Joe Root tells me he is the perfect man to be England captain.
“There’s no one even close to taking over.
“Why would you want Ben Stokes at this point in his career to be captain?
“He’s a leader without being captain, he gets runs, he gets wickets, he fields at slips, how much more pressure do you want to put on him?”
Gough will be present throughout the tour of South Africa with all eyes on England as they bid to improve their poor form away from British soil on the Test circuit.
There was discontent among regular listeners of BBC Test Match Special after talkSPORT were announced to have won exclusive broadcasting rights for radio coverage of England Test matches abroad, and Goughie has addressed the outcry head-on.
“What we brought to the coverage [in previous Tests] is that people liked our passion, liked our energy, liked our knowledge of the game.
“We talked about everything, it was purely cricket-dominated chat, we didn’t talk about which bus is going to be driving down the street.
“It’s purely cricket.
“We have no ad breaks during live coverage and the people we had in the box were unbelievable. This year we’ve got Kevin Pietersen coming into the commentary box.
“He does most of his work in India but I’m looking forward to seeing him talk about England because we don’t often get to see that.”
talkSPORT coverage of England in South Africa will begin on Boxing Day (26th December) morning.
For full details on how to watch and listen to all the action, check out our comprehensive England in South Africa 2019/20 guide.