Angus Fraser: Vaughan in battle to save his career

The news did not come as a surprise but yesterday it was made official - Michael Vaughan is out of the Ashes. The decision was made on the advice of the specialist who operated on Vaughan's degenerative right knee on Monday, and it will undoubtedly have a huge impact on England's defence of the "little urn" in Australia this winter.

Vaughan's inspired captaincy was pivotal to the team's success in 2005 and his absence leaves Andrew Flintoff with the honour of leading England out in Brisbane on 23 November. Flintoff is yet to be named as England's captain in Australia, but the fact that he will take charge as soon as he regains fitness suggests he is the selectors' choice.

The news will be viewed as a further setback for Vaughan, who has had problems with his right knee since collapsing in a heap in Pakistan nine months ago, and it will inevitably lead to people doubting whether he will ever play for England again. The likelihood of Vaughan returning to international cricket remains slim, but he will ultimately benefit from the decision.

The failure of the 31-year-old to recover from the surgery he had in December highlighted the perils of rushing rehabilitation and returning to competitive cricket too soon, and now that the lure of the Ashes has been taken away, Vaughan can concentrate solely on getting fit.

Vaughan, who had surgery to stimulate the growth of cartilage to a worn area of the joint, has targeted a return to cricket in early 2007, with a view to being available for the World Cup in the West Indies. Yet in order to prove his fitness for the tournament, he will need to play in the one-day series that follows the Ashes - the VB Series, which involves England, Australia and New Zealand, begins in the middle of January 2007, but this could still be too early for Vaughan, whose sole objective now is to play pain-free cricket.

"I'm disappointed for him," said Justin Langer, the Australian opener who is playing for Somerset. "You never like to see a fellow player out for any period of time with an injury. From an Australian point of view, I'm sure there'll be some advantage from him not playing in the Ashes.

"The reality is that if you take one of the best players out of any team, it's going to have an impact."

The outlook looked good for Vaughan when he returned to domestic cricket with Yorkshire six weeks ago. He played in six competitive matches for the county before the workload began to take its toll and he was forced to seek further medical advice, which culminated in this operation.

Vaughan's absence, along with that of Simon Jones and Ashley Giles, whose injury problems mean they are unlikely to tour Australia, has had a devastating effect on the England side. England won seven of the 10 Test series they have played since Vaughan became captain in 2003 but, since regaining the Ashes, they have failed to win any of their six Test and one-day series.

The slide is unlikely to end against Pakistan, who will start the four-Test series, which begins at Lord's next Thursday, as favourites.

Flintoff is expected to captain England in Australia even though Andrew Strauss will oversee events in the first Test. Flintoff is recovering from the ankle injury that prevented him playing in the one-day series against Sri Lanka, but he is hoping to be fit for the second Test at Old Trafford which starts on 27 July.

Flintoff had a scan on his ankle yesterday and is hoping to increase his training in the next couple of weeks. Flintoff will practise with the England squad at Lord's before playing for Lancashire in a four-day game against Kent on 18 July.

If Flintoff comes through the game at Canterbury, he will return to the Test side. The loss of Vaughan leaves England's hold on the Ashes looking fragile; it would be all but over should anything happen to Flintoff.

l Fred Trueman, one of England's greatest fast bowlers, was laid to rest in his beloved Yorkshire Dales yesterday. Former Yorkshire and England cricketers, including Ray Illingworth and Brian Close, gathered to pay respects to Trueman, who died at the age of 75 last weekend.

My toil and tears show how captain can recover to play again

The temptation to write off Michael Vaughan's cricket career is strong after nine months of uncertainty, surgery, failed comebacks and general negativity but, even so, it is still premature.

In the early Nineties, I, too, had an injury that kept me out of international cricket for a prolonged period of time. I spent almost two years nervously sitting in the waiting rooms of consultants before being told that the outlook was not bright. I managed to keep my composure until I reached the privacy of my car, but once there the tears flowed.

My hip injury was misdiagnosed, I had a needless operation and for three months I spent 10 hours a day attached to an electricity outlet wearing a pair of magnetic underpants. The treatment was supposed to stimulate the flow of blood to the head of my femur but, sadly, it made no difference.

"Why me?" is the sentiment that prevails as you consider a life without cricket, but it is the uncertainty that gets you down. After a while you couldn't care less how long or what it takes to correct the condition, all you want is to feel you are making progress. I was fortunate enough to see the right specialist in the end and surgery plus tedious, solitary training was successful.

I returned to the England team for the final Test of the 1993 Ashes at The Oval. I took eight wickets, England won a consolatory Test, and my first wicket there - Mark Waugh - is the most special of my career. At that moment all the toil, tears and worry seemed worthwhile.

Winning the Ashes at The Oval must be the highlight of Michael Vaughan's career, but raising his bat again for England, and acknowledging the applause of a full-house crowd, would probably surpass it.

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