England's next Test: Exit stage right for Vaughan as a player?

Chances of recall are remote as effect on new dressing room must be considered
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The Independent Online

Rarely can such a significant epoch have been quite so swiftlyconsigned to history. The King is Dead, Long Live the King. Or, thanks for everything captain, but don't ring us.

When Michael Vaughan resigned in a veil of tears a week ago, he expressed his earnest desire to regain his England place as a batsman. All the right things were said in the immediate aftermath, but a week is a long time in cricket.

Almost by accident, or at least by the magisterial use of Graeme Smith's bat, England's selectors have been given some wriggle room. There is no pressure on them to recall Vaughan. Indeed, quite the reverse: there is suddenly pressure on them to do some proper selecting.

This is the Pietersen Eranow. The shift was clear from the moment it was formally announced on Monday that Kevin of that ilk will lead England in all forms of cricket, Paul Collingwood also having fallen on his willow.

The appointment of a new captain of England is always the occasion for the circus to come to town, but it can never have been quite like this. Maybe when WG Grace, the most famous man in England, at last took over as the ninth captain in 1888 there was a bit of a fuss, and some hoopla surrounded Ian Botham's elevation in 1980, because he was only 24 and was transforming the English game. But this is different; Pietersen has relished it, positively encouraged it.

His century at The Oval, an exact century, mind, so that he averaged 100 as England captain after one innings, was written in the stars. Or as the captain would say: "What's going to happen will happen."

This may leave Vaughan – though not the selectors – in peace to try to acquire some runs for Yorkshire and reclaim his place in the middle order, or as an elegant, attacking opener once more. But there will have to be runs aplenty, and Vaughan has not been a big scorer for the county for years. When he was first picked for England for the South African tour in 1999 he had averaged 27 in the precedingChampionship season.

He has scored 20 first-class centuries for the county, only two more than his Test hundreds, and only five of them this decade. By any reasonable criterion he will need a minimum of two in the Championship before the end of this season to have the remotest chance of selection for England's winter tours to India, before Christmas, and West Indies afterwards.

There is plenty of history of England captains playing Tests after they have given up the captaincy. Botham himself played 65 more matches after stepping down in 1981, Alec Stewart won another 47 caps after he was replaced in 1999.

Yet of the men who have led England to victory in the Ashes, some of the most illustrious have never played again after they stopped being captain. That list includes Douglas Jardine, Len Hutton, Peter May, Ray Illingworth and Mike Brearley. Maybe they felt there was nothing left to prove, that anything they might achieve thereafter would not compare.

Vaughan, however, may feel he has unfinished business as a batsman. He was the No 1 in the world when he took over, and while he has not been in constant freefall he is now 33. The selectors must also consider the effect his presence would have in the dressing room. Indeed these selectors, whose fingernails must be immaculate since, having done so little selecting, they can only have spent their time this summer paring them, should have much else on their minds apart from the state of their emery boards.

They are in trouble as much as their masters at the England and Wales Cricket Board are in trouble. It was mentioned, and not before time, that Ashley Giles, the director of cricket at Warwickshire and a selector, has a conflict of interests because he has been trying to recruit players for the county. He certainly does – no matter whether it affects his judgement – and it is an issue the managing director of England cricket, Hugh Morris,may like to address between his other, no doubt onerous, duties.

The ECB are trying to sort out their place in the cricket world. The selectors need to sort out the team. Andrew Strauss's career is at the crossroads for the second (or is it third?) time in a year. Overlooked for the captaincy, he may wonder if he wants to go on. It is Australia, of course, and the chance for a shot at redemption which will probably keep him going, as so many others. But if the selectors are to make a change for the Ashes, once more bedevilling all thinking in the English game, they jolly well have to do it now.

They will be relieved at Stephen Harmison's return at full pelt, but there are already insidious whispers that Ryan Sidebottom's days in the sun may be over. He is the present England cricketer of the year.

Another wicketkeeper must also be unearthed after Tim Ambrose was exposed once more at The Oval, as always seemed possible. Presumably, they used their usual method for alighting on wicketkeepers – he had a pair of his own gloves. Ambrose is a talented cricketer and a tidy keeper but he is not a Test cricketer or a Test keeper.

Using their usual principle that it must be his turn again, or, less likely, the prima facie evidence of the recent Twenty20 Finals Day, where he gave a masterclass in wicketkeeping, the selectors should turn to James Foster of Essex. It is a sad fact that Chris Read probably blew his chances forever in Sydney 19 months ago.

It is the intention to announce the winter touring squad on 30 September, lending an extra frisson to the Championship run-in. If there is to be any hope in the 2009 Ashes – and with Pietersen anything is possible, assuming he lasts that long – the selectors must start getting it right. Long Live the King.

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