Former England fast bowler Darren Gough has taken aim at Surrey coach Michael di Venuto for suggesting the club would have no hesitation in signing one of the Australian players banned for their involvement in the ball-tampering controversy.
Captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft were all suspended from both international and Australian domestic cricket – the first two for 12 months, the latter for nine – but are permitted to play in overseas domestic competitions.
Neverthless, Smith and Warner both had multi-million dollar Indian Premier League contracts ripped up while a deal Bancroft had with Somerset was cancelled.
The Tasmania-born di Venuto, who played played nine ODIs for Australia in the late-1990s before going on to become the national side’s batting coach, earlier this month said Surrey would be "mad" not to consider signing the players.
The comments irked Gough, who stated he was strongly against the batsmen playing county cricket while they’re suspended from national duties.
"I was absolutely gobsmacked when I heard that Surrey coach Michael Di Venuto said he would be keen to sign one of Australia’s banned Test stars," Gough wrote in the Yorkshire Post. "I think it is such a sensitive issue.
"I do think there has been an overreaction regarding the bans, but once they got the 12-month bans from Cricket Australia, I would be hugely disappointed if one of the counties – as a Yorkshire fan – employed one of those three this season.
"Next season, I would have no issue with it. They will have then served their ban. But not this season."
While Cricket Australia's sanctions do not preclude the trio from playing abroad, the England and Wales Cricket Board would need to approve any move by a county side to sign one of them.
Surrey had signed Mitch Marsh as their overseas player for the county season before the allrounder was forced to undergo ankle surgery following the South Africa Test tour.
Marsh has since been replaced by Proteas opener Dean Elgar for the first two months of the season but there may be a vacancy later in the northern summer that could be filled by Smith, Warner or Bancroft. India captain Virat Kohli has also been linked with a stint at The Oval.
Di Venuto insisted it was vital the suspended Australians be afforded an opportunity to play while they're away from the international scene.
"From an Australian perspective, it is probably important that they play a bit of cricket at some stage," Di Venuto said.
"I don't know if they are allowed to play in this competition. I know what it states in their sanctions that they can't play domestic cricket in Australia.
"We have got a relationship with Mitch to see how he goes with his ankle but we have got a spot we have got to fill as well.
"So, if they are in the right mental state to play cricket and the ECB will have to allow it to start with, then we'd be mad not to look at some of the world's best players potentially playing."
Gough, a lion-hearted ex-quick who took 229 wickets in 58 Tests, took particular umbrage at di Venuto's suggestion that a county stint would be advantageous for England's Ashes rivals.
"What disappointed me most about what Di Venuto said was that he actually stated that bringing in one of those three would benefit Australian cricket," Gough continued.
"I am not bothered about benefiting Australian cricket. Why would one of our coaches in this country want to benefit their cricket with the Ashes coming up here next year?
"This year, with everything that has gone on, I think it would be a bad move for a county to take them."