Selectors consider Vaughan return

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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan is again expected to be top of the agenda when England's selectors convene immediately after Christmas to choose the squad for the tour to the West Indies.

The former England captain resigned from his post in tears earlier this summer following South Africa's victory in the third Test at Edgbaston, claiming the pressure of leading the side and attempting to recapture his form had become too much to handle.

He was expected to be selected instead for this winter's tour to India, but after scoring only 43 runs in four championship innings at the end of the summer he made himself unavailable and instead went with the Performance Programme Squad to Bangalore.

The terror attacks on Mumbai cut short his time in India to just a few days before the squad returned home, depriving him of the chance to impress the selectors with his commitment and touch before they select the tour for the Caribbean.

But his knowledge, experience and ability - when on form - will almost certainly ensure National Selector Geoff Miller and selectors Ashley Giles and James Whitaker discuss him before announcing the squad on 29 December.

Vaughan and Middlesex batsman Owais Shah, who excelled during the 5-0 one-day hammering in India but failed to win a place for the Test series, could both benefit from Ian Bell's failure to impose himself in recent months.

The Warwickshire batsman has played 31 successive Tests but since scoring a superb 199 in the opening Test against South Africa at Lord's earlier this year, which was supposed to be his breakthrough innings, he has averaged less than 20 from the nine innings he has played since including only one half-century.

Many critics believe Shah, renowned for his ability to play spin, should have been preferred for the Test series in India but England again decided to keep faith with Bell and retained him at number three.

But if the selectors finally decided to discard Bell, Vaughan is almost certain to be included as a replacement - setting up a straight battle between the former England captain and Shah to reclaim a place in the first Test line-up.

England's other major dilemma is whether to persevere with the outstanding but frustrating fast bowling talent which is Steve Harmison, whose performance was so inconsistent during the opening Test defeat in Chennai that he was dropped for the second Test in Mohali.

Captain Kevin Pietersen is a big supporter of Harmison's and stated his confidence in the Durham fast bowler reclaiming the number one spot in the world rankings he possessed just four years ago after England's last Caribbean tour.

That year Harmison claimed 67 wickets - a record for an England bowler. And his success against the West Indies on that tour - 23 wickets in four Tests including a career-best seven for 12 in Jamaica - will almost certainly persuade the selectors to persevere with him for next year's trip.

The selectors are also expected to keep faith with left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who began the tour to India with huge expectations of success but finished playing second fiddle to off-spinner Graeme Swann.

Both spinners are expected to be selected again while England could also stick to the same combination of wicketkeepers with Matt Prior retaining the gloves after an impressive tour of India with Tim Ambrose remaining as the reserve.

England's search for a new opening combination in the one-day squad - they tried Matt Prior, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara in the position - may result in a first call-up for Joe Denly for the one-day section of the tour.

There is one Twenty20 match and a five-match one-day international series and Denly could be seen as the answer to England's opening problems in limited-overs cricket.