Political crisis threatens England's tour of Sri Lanka

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The Independent Online

The England tour of Sri Lanka starting in eight days' time was thrown into doubt yesterday after the country's President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, suspended parliament for two weeks and deployed troops to protect key installations in Colombo.

Michael Vaughan's squad are due to begin their five-week tour of Sri Lanka, including three Tests and three one-dayers, next Thursday after finishing their three one-day matches with Bangladesh.

The team's spokesman, Andrew Walpole, said: "We haven't heard anything about it at this end. We are seeking advice from the England and Wales Cricket Board and no doubt they will be asking the Foreign Office for guidance."

The potential crisis arose after Kumaratunga sacked three powerful ministers for negotiating a power-sharing deal with the Tamil Tigers in the north-east of Sri Lanka.

As Friday's first one-dayer against Bangladesh in Chittagong nears, Andrew Flintoff has been rewarded for the huge advances he has made in the last six months by being named to captain England for the first time in tomorrow's one-day warm-up game against a Bangladesh Cricket Board Development Squad.

The promotion of the Lancashire all-rounder, who missed England's two Test matches in Bangladesh with a groin injury, may be short-lived - Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick are both being rested - but his selection is a clear sign of how highly the 25-year-old is now rated.

England are not the first team to view Flintoff as a potential captain - he is the vice-captain of Lancashire - but it is a position in which few expected to see him three years ago when he was widely criticised for being unfit and overweight. Since those stinging remarks from Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, and David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, Flintoff has transformed himself from a big, strong lad who could hit the ball a long way into an athlete.

The discipline and dedication it took to change his physique also seem to have helped him mature as a person. Flintoff was always a gifted cricketer but in last summer's 2-2 draw with South Africa we at last saw him consistently showing what he is capable of.

Vaughan and Fletcher are wise to give Flintoff greater responsibility because he is the most inspirational figure in an England team which does not appear to possess many strong characters. Vaughan's development as a captain seems to be progressing nicely but he is hardly an extrovert and Flintoff could be the ideal figure to turn to when the side need a bit of a hurry-up.

The team Flintoff leads has a youthful feel to it and contains the seven players brought out for England's six one-day internationals in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Middlesex opening batsman, Andrew Strauss, gets his first chance to impress in England colours and James Anderson plays his first game of cricket since recovering from a knee complaint.

There was further good news for Vaughan when Stephen Harmison was diagnosed to be fit enough to rejoin the squad during the Sri Lanka leg of the tour.

Dr Peter Gregory, the chief medical officer for the ECB, said: "Scans suggest there is no serious cause for the pain Stephen felt in his lower back during the first Test against Bangladesh. Stephen will continue to undergo treatment and strengthening work for his back at the ECB National Academy and I am very optimistic that he will rejoin the squad in Sri Lanka."

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