Fletcher in firing line over squad selection

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The Independent Online

As England come to terms with the devastating events of Adelaide and attempt to find a plan to keep this Ashes series alive in Perth, the calls to draft Michael Vaughan into the squad will rage like a bush fire fuelled by a hot desert wind.

Vaughan is still the official England captain, even though a chronic knee injury has prevented him from playing Test cricket for more than 12 months, and he took part in his second game for the Academy yesterday, scoring nine. He is due to play in a Festival match in Perth on Friday, and should he come through that unscathed he will be picked for England in their two-day match against Western Australia.

In selecting Ashley Giles for the first Test, England set a precedent. Giles had not played a first-class game for 12 months but it did not prevent the coach, Duncan Fletcher, and captain, Andrew Flintoff, from picking him. And should Vaughan come through these games successfully the selectors could well act in a similar way. What they do with the captaincy is anyone's guess but I would not want to be the person who knocks on Flintoff's door to tell him the news.

Fletcher said that it was unlikely they would add Vaughan or an Academy player to their beleaguered squad but he did not totally rule it out.

"We will discuss whether or not to add players to the squad when we get to Perth," he said before England's departure for Western Australia. "At this stage I would say it is unlikely. We have picked a squad to play on this tour and we should stand by those players."

Vaughan's desire to remain involved is understandable. He misses it hugely and it is, in essence, his side. But his presence cannot have helped Flintoff. Acting as a stand-in captain is tough at the best of times but when the boss is constantly sticking his nose in it is near impossible.

Flintoff, along with Stephen Harmison and Alastair Cook, remained with the Australian team in the home dressing room well into the early hours following England's defeat. The all-rounder is adored in this country, and not only by the public. The Aussie players love him too. And while the beer flowed a few of them will have sympathised with the position he finds himself in.

Vaughan would have been better off rehabilitating in England and playing cricket in South Africa when his knee was up to it. And only when fully fit should he be shipped across the Indian Ocean.

The race to get Vaughan fit will gather even greater momentum if Flintoff's left ankle continues to give him trouble. Hell and high water will not stop him from playing in next week's Test, but defeat and further discomfort in the joint could lead to a transfer of leadership.

Michael Vaughan is not the only dilemma facing the selectors. Fletcher, who has the casting vote over who should play when England are touring, is receiving a lot of criticism for not selecting Monty Panesar in the first two Tests.

During his seven years as coach Fletcher has managed to stay out of the firing line, and he did not enjoy the grilling he received in Adelaide yesterday. The 58-year-old defiantly defended his selection policy, although he did attempt to share the blame for Panesar's omission with Flintoff.

"I am not the sole selector on this tour," Fletcher said. "The captain and the coach finalise the side before each Test and I stand by the selections. I could have taken the easy option and picked Panesar, but I have to work out what is the best side. I do not sit there and say, 'Look, this is what we are going to do', I talk to the players and we come up with what we believe is the best plan to win.

"We lost the match on the back of an hour and a half's cricket. If we had batted well there, who knows what might have happened? We did not arrive at the ground intent on drawing the game. Our aim was to continue batting in the same way as the previous evening, when we scored 60 runs in 19 overs. Then, at lunchtime, we intended to reassess.

"It's very difficult to explain why it happened and I will sit down with the players and reflect on it. Sometimes, though, it is not easy to score runs and you have to give credit to the Australian bowlers."