Key's superb form provides strength in depth for England

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The Independent Online

Robert Key gained the most from England's six-wicket win over Wales on Saturday. The Kent opener has been in sparkling form for his county this season - 1,169 runs at an average of 89.92 - and he used England's warm-up match in Cardiff as the stage on which to prove this.

Robert Key gained the most from England's six-wicket win over Wales on Saturday. The Kent opener has been in sparkling form for his county this season - 1,169 runs at an average of 89.92 - and he used England's warm-up match in Cardiff as the stage on which to prove this.

The return of Michael Vaughan means that Key's 83 runs over the weekend are unlikely to gain him a place in England's starting XI on Thursday, when they take on New Zealand in a day-night match at Old Trafford, but this innings has shown the selectors they have alternatives at the top of the order.

The selection of Key in England's one-day squad also shows that he is the next batsman in line for a place in the Test side. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has stated on several occasions that he would like the Test and one-day teams to have the same personnel and Key can take consolation from this.

On the two occasions in 2003 when he played one-day cricket for England Key looked out of place, but following the successful introduction of Andrew Strauss - who gained selection for the Test team after a spell playing in the one-day side - the selectors have been encouraged to try this route again.

Despite dropping down the order in Test cricket, Vaughan will continue to open in the shortened form of the game. But it looks as though there will be a reshuffle below Marcus Trescothick and the England captain. Against Wales, Geraint Jones was sent in at three and Strauss dropped down to four. Jones likes to attack the bowling and it seems England will use these instincts to make the most of the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs. In Cardiff he hit five boundaries in his innings of 21.

In the West Indies, Strauss batted at three but his game is not as suited to biffing the bowling as that of Jones. The role of Strauss, who scored 92 not out on Saturday, will change to accommodate this and England are hoping the Middlesex captain can fill the hole left by Graham Thorpe in the middle of the innings.

England's selection policy on their bowlers will depend on how much rest they wish to give Stephen Harmison. Darren Gough and Harmison are unlikely to play in the same side too often and this should give Sajid Mahmood, of Lancashire, an early chance to impress.

In the past England have been under pressure to get off to a winning start in these Triangular tournaments and a couple of early defeats have meant that the likes of Mahmood have never been given a game. But the form of the Test side has given England confidence and the 22 year-old pace bowler could well make his England debut at his home ground on Thursday.

* Sir Viv Richards has been removed from the West Indies' selection panel ahead of what the West Indies Cricket Board described yesterday as a review of team management "that would have an impact on the role of selectors". The WICB said Richards was "unavailable" after revealing that he was contracted to the BBC's Test Match Special team for the West Indies tour of England. It was an indication that he jumped before he was pushed. He was under pressure after an open rift with the captain Brian Lara.

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