England look for settled attack to face West Indies

Vaughan and Fletcher must decide on pace bowlers for Caribbean in order to bounce back from Sri Lanka defeat

Touring the West Indies used to be a terrifying experience for England's batsmen. The prospect of 90mph bouncers from Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh whizzing past your nose ensured each tourist had plenty of protective equipment in his kit bag before he left Heathrow and a life assurance policy that was bang up to date.

After a harrowing three weeks trying to guess which way Muttiah Muralitharan's wrist is moving, the thought of facing some "chin music" in February must seem like fun for Michael Vaughan and his fellow batsmen. It hurts when a ball thuds into your chest at that speed but the bruising disappears a lot quicker than the mental scarring inflicted by Muralitharan's wizardry during the recent three-Test series.

The nature of the cricket in the Caribbean will be totally different to that in Sri Lanka but it is unlikely England will make many changes to the squad that lost 1-0 here. West Indian pitches are not as quick as people think and the quality of their fast bowling is not as high as it was when they ruled world cricket.

But pace still dominates the game there and so England will select an extra fast bowler. In the selectors' eyes, it seems you almost become a better player while sitting on the sidelines and the Durham paceman Stephen Harmison could well gain the final place ahead of Andrew Caddick or James Kirtley.

Simon Jones, the Glamorgan fast bowler, may come into the reckoning should he come through January's England A tour of India, but it would be a major gamble to pick a bowler who has not played competitively for more than a year.

England have two months to prepare for the four Tests and seven one-day internationals in the Caribbean and it is sure to be another tough tour. Preparations will begin at the National Academy in Loughborough after the 16-man squad is announced on 6 January.

The selectors have given extended opportunities to players but they must be concerned with what has taken place in Sri Lanka. England showed plenty of spirit to draw the Tests in Galle and Kandy, yet they never looked like they could dominate a whole game throughout the tour.

Only a couple of players enhanced their reputations and this should ensure that competition for places is fierce during England's two warm-up games in Jamaica.

Although he conceded 190 runs in the third Test and went for more than a hundred in each innings at Kandy, Ashley Giles was England's outstanding performer. After a disappointing tour of Bangladesh the left-arm spinner's England career was being questioned but he bowled himself back into form and thoroughly deserved his 18 wickets.

Andrew Flintoff also bowled well and could have taken as many wickets as Giles if England's fielders had hung on to the many chances he created. There must be concern about whether his body can take the battering it receives while bowling, and it was disappointing to see him limp off with further groin trouble in the Colombo Test.

Flintoff should do well in the Caribbean because the pitches reward tall, fast bowlers who consistently put the ball in the right areas. England's dilemma is picking two or three other pacemen to accompany him.

Injury led to unavoidable changes in the attack but the selectors do not help themselves by constantly changing personnel. In the first Test at Galle, James Anderson was injured, giving Matthew Hoggard and Richard Johnson the chance to share the new ball. Both looked ineffective on a slow pitch but it was still a surprise when Kirtley leapfrogged all three to open the bowling in Kandy.

These unexpected changes suggest the selection of fast bowlers is arbitrary and there is a shortage of understanding about their needs within the squad. England are fortunate to have five or six good young bowlers to pick from but it cannot do anybody any favours if the names on the teamsheet are constantly changing.

A captain needs to build up an understanding with his bowlers because they are the ones he works most closely with. Vaughan has already used 12 different bowlers during his first nine matches in charge. The captain and the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, have each explained their reasons for these decisions but they will only achieve the consistency they want from their bowlers if they show some themselves.

Five of the six specialist batsmen selected for this tour are on central contracts so they can enjoy Christmas knowing their names will be read out in the new year. Graham Thorpe - one of only two batsmen to average more than 30 in this series - can also feel confident about what he is doing in the spring. But more will be required from this experienced group if England are to win in the Caribbean.

Nasser Hussain will be Vaughan's main concern. Statistics can be used to suit any argument but the former England captain scored only 46 runs in his four Test innings in Sri Lanka. At 35, he needs to average 40 consistently if he is to justify his place in the side; since the World Cup it is two less than his age.

The batsmen's shortcomings have put pressure on the wicketkeeper, Chris Read. Replacing Alec Stewart was always going to be hard, but Read's failure to score heavily, even if his glovework has been excellent, has cast doubt over his place in the side. Geraint Jones may have spent the last 10 weeks as a glorified drinks waiter but he could well get his chance in the first Test at Sabina Park on 11 March.