England's surfeit of bowlers leaves Vaughan in a spin

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The Independent Online

It is apt that Galle Fort, a 360-year-old symbol of Sri Lankan power, should stand proudly at the southern end of this glorious venue. Because it is at this ground, situated within an Andrew Flintoff hit of the Indian Ocean, that Sri Lankan cricket has been at its strongest.

Hashan Tillakaratne's side have won six and lost one of the eight matches they have played at the Galle International Stadium. Of these victories three have been by an innings, two by 10 wickets and one by the small matter of 315 runs.

Taking these results and the nature of the pitch into account, it should come as little surprise to find out that Michael Vaughan and his fellow selectors are undecided over the side to pick for tomorrow's first Test here. The selectors took great care in assembling their Test squad for this tour and feel that they have cover for every circumstance.

Having been the coach when England lost here by an innings and 28 runs two years ago, Duncan Fletcher will have had a good idea of what to expect before he inspected the pitch. But its dry, crusty and underprepared appearance, and the seven different bowling attacks England could field, seem to have confused both his and the captain's mind. If anything, England now have too many options available to them.

Vaughan said: "I think it [the pitch] will play well for a couple of days and then the spinners will come into play. When you look at a wicket like that, it is obvious spin is going to come into play. We have to decide how much the seamers will bowl and whether playing three spinners would be the best option. The nature of this pitch is unique and makes it a one-off sort of game."

Playing three spinners is an option but it is hard to believe Vaughan will go down this route because it is England's weakest department. It is two and a half years since Ashley Giles, England's number one spinner, won a game for his country. Before then it was only the occasional inspirational performance from Phil Tufnell and Robert Croft that caught the headlines.

The last time England played three specialist spinners was in December 1987. John Emburey, Nick Cook and Eddie Hemmings took on Pakistan in Faisalabad, though the match is remembered for the altercation between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana.

Another reason to be wary of going down this path is that a three-spinner attack could also increase the workload on Flintoff, which, given his recent fitness record, is something Fletcher is keen to avoid.

England will probably pick three seamers, Richard Johnson and Matthew Hoggard joining Flintoff. But Vaughan also has the option of playing James Kirtley or even Rikki Clarke, though that would be a negative step. Clarke would add depth to their batting, but a specialist bowler would have to go. That would send out a cautious message and England must go into this game with a positive intent.

They will find conditions at Kandy and Colombo - the venues for the second and third Tests - more seamer-friendly than here; but it is important they leave Galle unbeaten. This will be difficult because it is here that Muttiah Muralitharan has been at his best. The world's leading spinner has taken a staggering 60 wickets in his eight Tests at this ground, including seven five-wicket hauls, and 10 wickets twice. Galle has also been a productive place for Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who all average 80 here.

Vaughan dismissed talk that his side are underprepared. "I feel refreshed after my rest," he said. "The amount of cricket that we play now means that you don't tend to lose too much rhythm after a week or two away from the game. This is not a major worry. Winning the toss will be just as important. I will not be too popular if I lose it."

The fast bowler James Anderson must prove by tomorrow that he is recovering from a twisted ankle if he wishes to remain in Sri Lanka. Martin Saggers will be called up should Anderson fail a fitness test.

England (from): M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, N Hussain, R Clarke, A F Giles, R D B Croft, G J Batty, R J Kirtley, R L Johnson, M J Hoggard, C M W Read (wkt), G O Jones, P D Collingwood.

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