Angus Fraser: Vaughan happy to lead from front

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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan will return to the position in which he established himself as a batsman of the highest class before flying home to England to attend the birth of his second childwhen he replaces Andrew Strauss at the top of England's batting order in tomorrow's third and final Test against Pakistan, knowing that anything but victory will result in his team losing their first series in two years.

At the conclusion of the match Vaughan will follow Strauss home, and England are aware that it may be the last they see of their captain in 2005. Strauss is expected to reappear in Lahore later this week to play in the five one-day internationals that follow the third Test, but Vaughan's return is far from guaranteed.

The England captain is still being troubled by the knee injury he sustained before the first Test, and he will seek advice from a specialist in England before making any decision. The complaint kept him out of the Multan Test and he hobbled around during the second match in Faisalabad.

"We are yet to decide on what the best way forward is for my knee," Vaughan said. "I will see the specialist next Monday or Tuesday when I return home and he will come up with a plan. Hopefully, it won't require an operation and I will be back to play in the one-dayers which start on 10 December."

The surgeon will be reluctant to operate on a knee that has been opened up on more than one occasion. Surgery would further reduce the joint's ability to absorb stress and shock. Yet even if Vaughan escapes surgery there is a good chance that he will be told to rest, a recommendation that would rule him out of the one-day series.

Vaughan is understandably apprehensive about what the specialist may find but the prospect of once again opening the batting with Marcus Trescothick holds no fear. Nor should it. It is while batting in this position that Vaughan has played the best cricket of his career. Indeed, the last time he opened he scored 140 against the West Indies in Antigua in 2004.

It is slightly ironic that Strauss's absence should lead to Vaughan reclaiming the position everyone thought would be his for years. For it was the arrival of Strauss which encouraged the England captain to slip down the order.

"It is the natural thing for me to do," he said confidently. "Belly [Ian Bell] would then move up to three and Colly [Paul Collingwood] come in at four. I've not done badly there in the past and combining the captaincy and opening should not be a problem. Bell and Collingwood have never opened for England."

Scoring runs is the less daunting part of the third Test for England - Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, have to come up with a plan that allows them to take 20 Pakistan wickets.

The pair - had Vaughan gone to look at the pitch - would have been surprised and delighted with the green, damp surface at the centre of the Gaddafi Stadium. The pitch's condition was nothing like anybody, including the Pakistan players, expected. To be successful in this part of the world you have to be sharp, but the groundsman here may have been caught out by the recent weather, which has been overcast.

"I have not looked at the pitch yet," Vaughan said. "Duncan has and he said it is quite damp and soft. The weather may change it over the next couple of days but it is hard to see it having much pace in it. Duncan was quite surprised by it but I tend not to look at a pitch until the morning of the game because they can change so much."

The pitch increases the chances of James Anderson replacing Shaun Udal in England's starting XI. England's spinners have been ineffective and Anderson's swing bowling could be ideally suited to the conditions.

The only problem with playing Anderson is the over rate. Early morning dew and mist mean that play here will start 30 minutes later than in Multan and Faisalabad, and bad light - the sun sets at the same time - will probably reduce each day's play by 15 to 20 overs.

This equates to a four-day Test, and England will need to cram as many overs as they can into each day. In the second Test England bowled 13.1 overs an hour, and Anderson's inclusion will only bring this down.

Vaughan knows that he may have to take a few calculated risks. "On the subcontinent you set up a game on the first three days and then get an opportunity to win it on days four and five," he said.

"And that is what we will be trying to do here. It is a slower game than we are used to at home but we knew that before we came. If it means we have to step up the pace towards the end of the game, then that is what we will have to do."

Pakistan have their problems too and will make at least two changes to the side which drew in Faisalabad. Shahid Afridi is banned and Younis Khan has withdrawn following the death of his brother in Ukraine.

Asim Kamal and Hasan Raza are the two extra batsmen in the Pakistan squad but Yasir Hameed could be called up. Hameed is a specialist opener but Pakistan are reluctant to change their opening pair of Shoaib Malik and Salman Butt. If Hameed plays he would bat at three, allowing Kamal to come in at six.

Pakistan may also play Mohammad Asif, the left-arm quickie who took 10 wickets against England in the warm-up game where Vaughan hurt his knee, ahead of Mohammad Sami.

England (probable): M P Vaughan (c), M E Trescothick, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, K P Pietersen, A Flintoff, G O Jones , A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.

Pakistan (probable): Inzamam-ul-Haq (c), Shoiab Malik, Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Mohammad Yousuf, Asim Kamal, Kamran Akmal, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Danish Kaneria.

Umpires: D Hair and R Koertzen.