It would be unfair on Michael Vaughan to suggest that, after one match in his charge, England are in turmoil, but the confusion and uncertainty which surrounds his side is reminiscent of the late Eighties and early Nineties.
Few could have predicted the disruptive effect Nasser Hussain's impulsive decision to resign after the first Test would have had on the confidence and stability of the side. Certainly, David Graveney did not. But the England chairman of selectors has described the fortnight since he accepted Hussain's wish to stand down as the most difficult period of his six years in the job.
Before England's drubbing by an innings and 92 runs at Lord's most supporters would have felt that demoralising performances of this nature were a thing of the past against any team other than Australia. During the four years Hussain was at the helm England appeared to develop a steely and competitive edge. Such qualities were absent from too many of the XI who took on South Africa. Only Andrew Flintoff, with an excellent all-round performance that included his second Test century, left London with his reputation enhanced.
Following England's defeat, Graveney, and his fellow selectors, Geoff Miller, Duncan Fletcher and Rod Marsh, have been trying to come up with a plan and a team capable of preventing this five-match series against South Africa becoming a fiasco. Vaughan will have had his say on the make-up of the side and today at 10.45am, when the squad for the third Test at Trent Bridge is announced, the nation will find out whether these five have wielded a sharp or blunt axe.
The possibility of change has been reduced because of injuries to several players who have shown the right credentials. The knee and back of the Somerset pair, Richard Johnson and Andrew Caddick, continue to be of concern. Yorkshire's Matthew Hoggard and the Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones have only just started playing again after knee surgery.
Surrey's Graham Thorpe and James Ormond, two players who the selectors would have considered bringing into the side, are also doubtful due to end-of-season niggles. Thorpe, who was overlooked for the second Test at Lord's because of a back spasm, is yet to recover fully from his ailment and Ormond has tendinitis behind his right knee.
Should both players be overlooked by England this morning - and Thorpe may well be because Vaughan does not want three veterans at four, five and six in his order - they will play for Surrey against Nottinghamshire on Wednesday. At this late stage of the season the county champions are prepared to risk playing two players who are not 100 per cent fit. The question is are England?
Even if this pair were fully fit it appears as though the selectors are reluctant to make too many alterations to the side comprehensively beaten by South Africa a week ago. The retirement of Darren Gough from Test cricket has created a hole for either Ormond or the Sussex fast bowler James Kirtley, but it seems as though Alec Stewart, Anthony McGrath, Ashley Giles and Steve Harmison will be given an opportunity to redeem themselves. The only surprise could come in the form of Worcestershire's Gareth Batty, an off-spinning all-rounder who could challenge Giles for his place.
While the loyalty and consistency these selectors have shown during the last four years should be applauded, the England team cannot be seen as a side that is harder to get dropped from than be selected for. Since the Nottingham Test against India in 2002 England have had a miserable time. In the 11 Test matches they have played during this period they have won only three - two of which were against a weak Zimbabwe side - and lost six.
If it were not for injury, however, the group of players the England selectors would be looking at - bar John Crawley and Dominic Cork, who have both been dropped - would be pretty much the same. It is difficult to comprehend why the selectors have persevered with the players who put England in such a predicament in the first place.
It is because of this short-sighted approach that a certain amount of sympathy should be shown towards Vaughan. England's new captain has been left with a side that contains several leading players who will retire within a short period of time. Gough has gone, Stewart is about to depart and it can only be a matter of months before Hussain and Caddick follow. Injury and the reluctance of the selectors to prepare for this in the last 15 months, by giving young players an opportunity when one has come along, has left Vaughan with very few options in his hour of need.
If comments made by Vaughan earlier this week are anything to go by, the senior players are not in for an easy ride. The 28- year-old expects the likes of Hussain and Stewart to pass on advice and work with the less experienced members of the side rather than sit in the corner looking after their own game.
Possible England XIII: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), M A Butcher (Surrey), N Hussain (Essex), R W T Key (Kent), A McGrath (Yorkshire), A J Stewart (Surrey), A Flintoff (Lancashire), A F Giles (Warwickshire), J Ormond (Surrey), J Kirtley (Sussex), S J Harmison (Durham), J M Anderson (Lancashire).
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- Ashley Giles
- Darren Gough
- Freddie Flintoff
- Matthew Hoggard
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