Hesitant Vaughan must create order out of batting chaos

NatWest Series: England would be wiser to resist calls for Thorpe's recall and have patience with youthful but inexperienced batting line-up

It has not taken long, only three defeats to be precise, for those who advocated the intro-duction of young players to the England side to start questioning this decision. The calls for a return to the old guard could be heard growing in volume at Old Trafford on Thursday evening as South Africa waltzed past England's total of 223 for 7.

It has not taken long, only three defeats to be precise, for those who advocated the intro-duction of young players to the England side to start questioning this decision. The calls for a return to the old guard could be heard growing in volume at Old Trafford on Thursday evening as South Africa waltzed past England's total of 223 for 7.

The performance of the middle order is the problem, and the demand is for the selectors to shore it up by adding Graham Thorpe to the 15-man squad. There is nothing to stop them doing so. In the short term it would probably improve the host nation's chances of qualifying for and winning the NatWest Series, the final of which is a week today. However, it would be wrong.

Few can doubt the qualities of Thorpe as a cricketer. With Test and one-day averages of 42 and 37 respectively the Surrey left-hander is one of the few class acts England have produced in the last 10 years. He may never have scored a one-day hundred for England but his experience and ability to manoeuvre the ball around during the vital period between the 15th and 40th overs has been sorely missed.

In the seven limited-overs internationals England have played this summer, numbers three, four, five and six have scored a total of 453 runs at an average of 18.88. An output like this from the engine room of a team is nowhere near good enough but it is no reason to recall someone who will be 34 next month. Jim Troughton, who has scored only 36 runs in five innings, and Robert Key are struggling to cope with the skills that are needed but they are never going to improve unless they are given exposure to the challenges of the job.

At the end of this tournament some players are bound to be discarded but the selectors should continue to look at those of a similar age. In the last three World Cups England have been appalling and it is unlikely to be veterans of those failures who will turn things around in 2007. Now is the time for patience rather than panic.

However, England are not helping themselves during the NatWest Series. With Michael Vaughan stating that he would bat at number four for the rest of the competition, only to be seen walking in at three in his next game, and given the constant tinkering with the middle order, England's tactics seem confused. At Old Trafford South Africa put Andrew Hall in at three to protect Jacques Kallis, their in-form player, from the new ball. But England's order, apart from the openers, looks as if it is decided by a game of musical chairs.

In the three-match series against Pakistan, which England won 2-1, the batting order between three and six was the same each time. Since then no one, other than Andrew Flintoff - and nobody would dare get in his way when the music stops - has been in the same spot for two consecutive games. The nature of the one-day game means that flexibility within a side is paramount but batsmen, who are a sensitive lot, like to know where they are batting so they can get used to playing a certain role.

The first player who needs to do this is the captain. As England's best player Vaughan has to bat in the top three. Here he has the chance to bat for the majority of the innings and control the game. He may be worried about the ability of those coming in below him but it is up to them to improve. He must not compromise himself.

To see how it is done, he need look no further than Kallis, who is currently giving a master-class in the art of one-day batting. If I were Vaughan, and any of England's other batsmen for that matter, I would watch today's match between South Africa and Zimbabwe in Cardiff. Jacques, please don't let me down.

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