Australia intend to exploit the frailties of Michael Vaughan during the coming one-day series after it was confirmed yesterday that he had been reinstated as the England captain. A career-threatening knee injury has prevented Vaughan from representing England for more than a year and there are many who believe that he is taking a huge risk by returning to international cricket on such a treacherous stage.
The desire to see Vaughan back in charge is strong after such a disappointing Ashes campaign, and he was very upbeat about the team and his standing, but the hectic nature of the itinerary and the toughness of the cricket will give his right knee its ultimate test.
"As a team we try to exploit any deficiency, whether it is technical, physical, mental or tactical," said John Buchanan, the Australian coach. "If we understand that Michael is struggling physically then that will be one area that we would certainly like to target. It would be the same with anybody. If we can find weaknesses in their armoury then we will try to exploit them."
Vaughan is confident that his knee is up to the task but he can expect the Australian batsmen to put him under enormous pressure when they hit the ball to him in the field. When he is batting he can expect fielders to throw the ball to the end at which he is running so that he has to run every run hard. It sounds ruthless but that is the way it is.
"Six months ago I was told that I would never play cricket again so it is a great honour for me to be back," said Vaughan. "It has been a tough year for me and I guess the team will be thinking the same, 2006 has not gone the way that we planned. It is a huge challenge for me and the team to make 2007 a lot, lot better. We must try and learn from the mistakes we have made in the last year or so, and try to develop a winning culture again. The team are sorry that things have not gone to plan here but we realise we have played against a very, very good Australian side who put us under enormous pressure at every opportunity they could.
"We need to create an environment where players can go out and express themselves in the pressure situations, and it is my job as captain to bring that to the team. I want to try and make sure that they don't feel inhibited in any way or scared of any situation, and that we take Australia and New Zealand on in the one-day series.
Vaughan continued: "I realise that when I walk in to the dressing-room and take charge of the team there will be effects from the 5-0 Ashes whitewash. When you get beaten heavily it does have an effect, as it did four years ago when we lost 4-1 here. But the players have to realise that we have a great opportunity to put what has happened to one side and start afresh with the one-day series. With the World Cup coming up we can really concentrate our minds on one-day cricket. We need to try and develop a strategy that brings success in the one-day game.
"Our one-day cricket has not been very good over the last year but that is the challenge for all the players and management. We all need to buy in to a strategy, to get some consistency and build towards the World Cup. I will be trying to make sure we get our preparation right and that we work hard. If we communicate and get all the one per cent things that I am very keen on right, the results will hopefully look after themselves."
England's World Cup preparations start tomorrow with a Twenty20 game against Australia in Sydney. The more serious limited-over cricket begins in Melbourne on Friday when Vaughan will pit his wits against Ricky Ponting for the first time since the Oval in 2005.
Informing Andrew Flintoff that he was no longer captain would not have been an easy task but Vaughan has spoken to his talisman about the situation. "I think Flintoff has done a remarkable job under the circumstances," said Vaughan. "He has not had the experienced heads of Ashley Giles and Marcus Trescothick to call on as I did and that has made it even tougher for him. I think he will be just looking forward to getting out and playing. Getting Freddie back playing the sort of cricket he was in 2005 is another one of my challenges."
David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, admitted that there was an element of risk attached to picking Vaughan but he sees the Commonwealth Bank series as an important part of his rehabilitation working towards the World Cup in March.
"The knee is not restricting me at all whether it be running between the wicket, running in the field or playing certain shots. Before I did not feel as though I could play the pull shot; now I can. It might take me a couple of games to get used to international cricket again but I am very confident that I will get back into the swing of things a lot faster than people think. I have practised very, very hard and I just need games of cricket now. I am confident that I have a few more years left in me yet."