England gamble by resting Vaughan and Trescothick

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The Independent Online

England are taking a major risk by not playing Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick in their only warm-up game before next week's first Test against Sri Lanka.

Since their arrival in Sri Lanka each of England's batsmen have stated how difficult it has been to adapt to the unique pitches here, and turning down the chance of three good days' practice against a strong President's XI seems unwise.

Nobody would have begrudged the openers their time off had they batted in each of England's three one-day internationals here. But following the cancellation of the last two without a ball being bowled, the pair will now be going into the first Test short of practice. By the time they walk out in Galle it will have been two weeks since they last batted.

The captain, Vaughan, and Trescothick will spend plenty of time practising during this match, but no amount of time in the nets can be as good as a day's batting in the middle. Not only are the surfaces you play on different but so are the bowlers you face.

The absence of these two also means that the four batsmen who are certain to play in the first Test will be batting out of position. Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain look set to open despite the fact that they have scored most of their Test runs at numbers three and four. Graham Thorpe will come in at three; Andrew Flintoff will bat at five, a position he has occupied only once in a Test match.

To many, such movements may seem irrelevant but the idea of these games is to make the cricket as close to that which you come up against in a Test match. Butcher and Hussain could well score hundreds, but should either get out against the new ball and not face any spin, they will be ruing their batting position.

While England's batting order is settled, there are bowling places up for grabs. Richard Johnson's omission suggests he will definitely play in Galle, and he is likely to be joined by Matthew Hoggard. However, the fiercest competition will be among England's three spinners, who all play in this match.

Following their lack of success in Bangladesh - three wickets in 80 overs - neither Ashley Giles nor Gareth Batty can be certain of their Test place. The fact that Giles's left-arm spin offers variety will work in his favour and it would be a surprise if the pair did not start against Sri Lanka. But the presence of Robert Croft will add extra spice to the contest.

As with the batting there is, however, a downside to this selection. After Bangladesh the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, stated that Giles and Batty needed to get plenty of overs in if they were to find the sort of form Vaughan requires from his spinners.

During their two one-day matches here we have already seen that England's fast bowlers will not be able to bully Sri Lanka's batsmen in the same manner they did against Bangladesh. Because of this the spinners will be expected to play a far greater role during this three-Test series. However, by playing all three in this match - and assuming that the overs will be split evenly so that each is given a fair chance to shine - England run the risk of not giving the two who will gain selection for the Test the practice they require.

Playing four games of cricket in this heat during the next four weeks will be demanding but it is vital that England start well. Two years ago, under Hussain's captaincy, England recovered magnificently after losing the first Test to win the series 2-1. Although this squad has several resourceful characters, it is hard to imagine them repeating this feat.

* Sri Lanka have included the uncapped pace bowler Dinusha Fernando in their squad for the first Test. He made his one-day debut against England earlier this month, taking 2 for 13 in the 10-wicket win at Dambulla.

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