Focus of 'fatherly' Vaughan

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The Independent Online

On most tours it is the time spent away from cricket grounds that the players look forward to the most. The travel, five-star hotels, expenses, restaurants, bars, golf courses and the excitement of being abroad tend to transcend the hours spent sweating and toiling fruitlessly under a hot sun.

But for this England tour party the reverse will be true. Michael Vaughan's 14-man squad will have attempted to put the complex and contentious issues that surround Wednesday's arrival in Zimbabwe to the back of their minds. But, like the threatening clouds which continue to gather over the Namibian capital, they will not go away.

However, today the visitors take on Namibia in the first competitive match of this controversial tour. Only then will the players' thoughts turn to something which seems more important than matters taking place off the field.

No one will be more relieved to be playing than Vaughan. As the captain he has inevitably become a focus of attention, but since deciding to make himself available for this tour he has led by example. He has been honest and stated on many occasions that he would prefer not to be travelling to Zimbabwe.

This view has not stopped him from attending to his responsibilities. In fact he has moved the other way and feels that it is part of his job to protect and represent the younger squad members.

"I am trying to make this as normal a cricket tour as I can for the players," said Vaughan at the final practice session at the Wanderers Ground in Windhoek. "If there are any difficult questions or difficult situations then I, along with the management team, will try to deal with it. That is what myself, Richard Bevan [chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association], David Morgan and John Carr [respectively chairman and cricket operations director of the England and Wales Cricket Board] are here to do. This will allow the rest of the squad to concentrate solely on their cricket and winning cricket matches for England."

Vaughan has not adopted a fatherly approach to win over his team-mates - after guiding England to victory in 10 of the past 11 Tests, he commands huge respect. He is doing it because he believes it is the right thing to do. And it is.

Nasser Hussain, Vaughan's predecessor, acted in similar manner when England were due to travel to Harare for the 2003 World Cup. The pressure of the decision, along with his passionate nature, caused Hussain to lose his enthusiasm for the job. It is to be hoped that Vaughan does not find himself in the same position.

"I would not say this has been the most stressful period of my captaincy," he said. "But when you are continually being asked questions that aren't related to cricket, you realise you are not taking part in a normal cricket tour.

"We realise it is going to be a little bit tricky, but I just want my squad to concentrate on the cricket and get as much as they can out of the five games in Zimbabwe." Despite Namibia running England close at the World Cup, anything but victory in the two games here and five against Zimbabwe will be seen as failure.

In preparation, the United Cricket Board of South Africa allowed Namibia to compete in a couple of their domestic competitions. But following a controversial overhaul of first-class cricket in South Africa - to improve the standard, the number of sides was reduced - this offer was rescinded.

The Namibia team who take the field today will contain many of the faces who played against England in Port Elizabeth 21 months ago. England's will contain a maximum of four from that game; Stephen Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick chose to rest at home, leaving Vaughan, James Anderson, Paul Collingwood and Ashley Giles as the only survivors. All four can expect to play, but selecting the other seven is difficult. England wanted to play a match involving all 14 members of their squad but Namibia, thankfully, refused.

Ian Bell's quality has con- tinued to impress Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, and he could find himself opening the batting with Vikram Solanki ahead of Matthew Prior. Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Collingwood will dominate the middle order, and Kevin Pietersen should be given an opportunity to show his class.

Geraint Jones will keep wicket, but Prior's presence will put him under pressure. Vaughan would not dare to leave Giles out, after the spinner turned down the chance to rest in order to support his captain. That leaves Anderson, Alex Wharf and Darren Gough to bowl the quick stuff.

"We have not decided on our side yet," was all Vaughan would reveal. "But we would like to have a look at all the players during our time here and in Zimbabwe."