Johnson return strengthens England challenge

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The Independent Online

England's one-day squad will be back to full strength for the NatWest Series which begins at Trent Bridge on Thursday when the Somerset pace man, Richard Johnson, rejoins the team after recovering from an injury to his right knee. Johnson, who claimed the man of the match award on his Test debut at Durham with figures of 6 for 33, damaged his troublesome knee when he fell awkwardly just before England defeated Zimbabwe. The problem forced the 28-year-old to withdraw from the three-match NatWest Challenge against Pakistan.

To prove his fitness and regain a place in the squad, Johnson went through two strenuous net sessions at Taunton over the weekend. He will join up with England's victorious squad in Nottingham tomorrow while James Kirtley, his replacement, returns to play for Sussex.

England's victory at Lord's on Sunday gave Michael Vaughan a wonderful start to his captaincy and because of it his side will go into the triangular series, which includes South Africa and Zimbabwe, full of confidence. But Vaughan's form with the bat is beginning to become a concern - he has scored 94 runs in his five innings for England this summer - but he can be pleased with his decision-making during his first three matches in charge. There is always an element of luck behind a bowling change that immediately brings success but it seems to happen more to the better captains. At Lord's three of Vaughan's led to wickets being taken in the bowler's first over, so the omens are good.

There were many encouraging sights for England supporters during these games but none more than the fielding. It is difficult to remember an England team putting on better displays than those we witnessed in the last week. Vikram Solanki, at backward point, and Jim Troughton at extra cover or mid-wicket were an inspiration. Their energy and commitment rubbed off on the rest of the side and it was probably the runs they saved that tipped Sunday's game England's way.

The manner in which a player fields gives a good indication of his commitment to the side because cricketers are usually selected on how they perform with the bat or ball. Fielding is something a player gives for free so watching these youngsters throw themselves around as they have is an encouraging sign. It suggests there is an excellent spirit within the squad.

England's bowlers had every reason to leave Lord's proud of what they achieved, too. During the three matches their discipline has been excellent and the challenge now is to live up to these standards for the remainder of the summer. Darren Gough may not have been given the choice of ends by his captain - this honour has been placed on James Anderson's shoulders - but he was handed the ball for the important overs at the crucial stages of Pakistan's innings. The Yorkshire fast-bowler fulfilled the role England were looking for and fully justified his selection. Anderson's dream start continued with a hat-trick at The Oval but Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles, who both went for under four an over, gave Vaughan superb control in the middle of the innings.

The batting will be England's only area of concern. Marcus Trescothick was superb but England's run scoring was a one-man show. Such was the dominance of the Somerset opener that he scored twice as many runs as any other player in the competition. Worryingly for England the 212 runs he scored totalled 44 more than the combined efforts of Solanki, Vaughan and Troughton, the other three players in England's top four.

Trescothick's return to form is to be welcomed but England will need more runs from his team-mates if they are to start winning games consistently. To become a good side England need at least three or four batsman who are capable of winning matches, not just one.

Solanki is as exciting with the bat as he is in the field but he will always give the bowler a chance, and Troughton, despite not being afraid of going for his shots, has plenty of work to do against bowling just outside off-stump.

Pakistan have every right to consider themselves unfortunate to have lost this tournament but like England they have plenty of positives to take from it. They are a magnificent side to watch and is a shame to say goodbye to them when they have whetted the appetite.

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