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Darren Gough enters this week's deciding Test against Sri Lanka looking to add further evidence to the campaign for central contracts by taking a step closer to a personal objective he has been working towards for four years.

As coach Duncan Fletcher and chairman of selectors David Graveney sit down for preliminary discussions about next summer's contract scheme this week, Gough represents the finest possible advert for their success.

Fletcher is campaigning to increase the number from last summer's 12 to 15 to take on Pakistan and Australia this summer, a request which may face opposition from counties because of the cost involved in taking a further three players out of the domestic game and onto the England and Wales Cricket Board payroll.

But they need only look at the new lease of life Gough has received since the scheme was introduced to realise the impact it has had on England's revival over the last year, with the partnership between captain Nasser Hussain and Fletcher suffering only two Test defeats from their last 12 matches.

Since being given a contract Gough has been available for every one of those Tests, which contrasts starkly with his injury record prior to their inception, and has taken 53 wickets at an average of 22.45 including 19 wickets on the spin-friendly surfaces of the sub-continent this winter.

Gough said: "I've been looked after well over this last 12 months. There were doubts about central contracts but the way Nasser and Duncan have looked after me between games has been brilliant.

"They ask me if I want to play, do I need to play and they've looked after me well. I've hardly played any games in between Test cricket in the last year and a half."

It has enabled him to rise above Sidney Barnes with a match-winning eight-wicket haul in the last Test at Kandy and stand ninth in the list of England's leading Test wicket-takers, needing only a further two at the Sinhalese Cricket Club this week to overtake Jim Laker.

But the target he really craves, one which he put a star against in his cricket kit coffin four years ago, is the 202 wickets claimed by seventh-placed Jon Snow for England - a record which now stands in his sights providing injury does not interrupt his progress.

"I look at the list of England's leading wicket-takers every day because it's in my case," said Gough.

"It's not to do with the statistics, but everybody has their little targets in life and the best way for me to keep going is by trying to pass the names above me.

"Every time I pass one I cross them off and it would be nice to go up the order as far as I can - to get 200 wickets would be a big thing for me.

"I admire every single bowler on that list but the one target I had from four years ago was to get past Jon Snow - I even put a star next to his name."

Once that is achieved, though, even Gough has almost conceded defeat in his attempts to rise much higher with Alec Bedser claiming sixth place on 236 wickets, although contracts may extend his longevity at the highest level.

"I want to go on playing for another two or three years but I want to be playing when I'm still strong and fit," he said.

"I have thought about having a rest in the future but at the moment my body feels good.

"It will be a long summer this year against Australia and if I'm still feeling as if I've got plenty of energy, I'm bowling well and I'm picked then we'll have to wait and see.

"You want to play for England as many times as you can and you want to keep going. You don't want to miss series unless you have to because I consider myself lucky to have played as many Tests as I have."

Gough is expected to take his place in an unchanged attack for the third and final Test which starts on Thursday, but England have bigger decisions to make about the batting order despite their success at the Asgiriya Stadium.

Graeme Hick's failure to make an impression in either innings during the three-wicket win has increased the pressure on him after only one half-century in the last 19 Test innings stretching back to the start of last summer and England may decide the time is right to recall Michael Vaughan.

The decision, though, may be made for them by the fitness of captain Hussain, who sustained an injury to his left groin during the last Test and, although he looked pain-free batting in the nets today, is unlikely to be fully fit for the start of the match on Thursday.

Physiotherapist Dean Conway said: "He won't be 100% for the Test so we'll leave the decision until the morning of the match to give him as much time as possible to improve."

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