Solanki given last chance to hold off Strauss challenge

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The Independent Online

If England's travel arrangements are the same as on previous tours, where seating was organised in alphabetical order, Vikram Solanki and Andrew Strauss will have spent yesterday's seven-hour flight to Sri Lanka sitting next to each other. Before Solanki's three failures in Bangladesh nobody would have thought anything about such a situation, but there will have been an edge to the dialogue between this pair throughout their journey.

Both batsmen will be aware that they are competing for the same place in England's one-day side during tomorrow's match against Sri Lanka Cricket President's XI. Their captain, Michael Vaughan, and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, will be watching closely because the one who makes the most favourable impression will open the batting with Marcus Trescothick in the first one-day international in Dambulla on Tuesday.

Solanki's place in the side is under pressure because he scored just 11 runs during his three visits to the crease in Bangladesh. As England look to develop a one-day team capable of winning the 2007 World Cup, Fletcher knows his side are in need of an opening batsman who performs more regularly than Solanki does at present.

"We want him to carry on playing in the same way because that is the way he plays," the England coach said. "If you tell him to tighten up a bit and he becomes indecisive, he is no longer playing his natural game. Vikram has not been as consistent as he would have liked and we have spoken to him about that and what he needs to be. He could do with a decent score and we will give him another chance in our warm-up game because our policy has been to give guys a good run. But Vaughan and Strauss can also open the innings."

The form of Solanki and the effectiveness of England's spinners are the only items that will need looking into at the end of a successful tour of Bangladesh. The recent heroics of Andrew Flintoff have dominated the headlines but the performances of other players should not be overlooked.

Trescothick, Vaughan and Paul Collingwood all appeared in reasonable touch and England's battery of fast bowlers were far too aggressive and strong for the timid Bangladesh batsmen. Chris Read will not fill the vacuum left by Alec Stewart, but the wicketkeeper is developing into a good cricketer. And apart from a couple of occasions when England were in such control that they let matters drift, Vaughan's side were vibrant in the field. The opposition may have been weak but England, under the guidance of Vaughan and Fletcher, appear to be moving forward nicely.

"I think the most pleasing part of the one-day side is that we are now covering all bases," Fletcher said. "All we need to do is get the spinners bowling lots of overs out here so they can learn what to do, and to keep the fast bowlers fit so they can do the same. There have been periods in the one-dayers when we have played some really good cricket, no matter what the opposition have been like.

"In the second one-dayer on Monday, the bowling and the fielding in the first 25 overs is exactly how we should be able to play. During these periods we have shown we have real potential and the challenge is now to sustain it for 50 overs. It is very exciting at the moment because we have a group of about 18 players who are pushing for places."

The only concern for Fletcher, whose squad are now only halfway through their pre-Christmas tour of Asia, is that tiredness does not start to affect England's performances.

"It is the stress of the job that tires players," Fletcher said. "I am tired after watching a one-day game. I watch every ball bowled and that is six or seven hours of focus. Then there is the travelling. I don't think people understand the travelling side of it. We travel, practise, play a game, then travel again. It is the mental side that causes more problems than the physical."

With a far more challenging tour of Sri Lanka about to begin, this is not the time for England to start fading. Because of the standard of England's recent opponents it is difficult to know exactly how well Vaughan's side are playing, but the conditions in Bangladesh should have been the perfect preparation for Sri Lanka. And after losing their last two series to England, Sri Lanka will want revenge.


Tour match: Drew with BCB President's XI

Tour match: Drew with Bangladesh A

First Test: Won by seven wkts

Second Test: Won by 329 runs

Won Test series 2-0

First ODI: Won by seven wkts

Second ODI: Won by seven wkts

Third ODI: Won by seven wkts

Won one-day series 3-0