England are set to abandon one of their winter plans in next month's first Test against New Zealand with Michael Vaughan relinquishing his opening berth to Andrew Strauss, who batted at three in last month's tour against the same opponents. When Strauss was omitted from England's pre-Christmas tour of Sri Lanka the Alastair Cook/Vaughan opening partnership was presented as a marriage made in heaven, with their contrasting techniques and scoring areas expected to cause bowlers and opposition captains all sorts of trouble.
Cook and Vaughan began encouragingly, compiling two century partnerships in the second Test against Sri Lanka. But in New Zealand the pair failed to give England the starts they were looking for, averaging just 35 for the first wicket. Vaughan was the main problem. The England captain scored only 123 runs at an average of 20.5 in the three-Test series.
In the final Test, Strauss, England's regular opener, struck 177. The contrasting performances have forced England to scrap the experiment and return to the batting order of last summer. Vaughan is keen on the change.
"In an ideal world, I would bat at three," Vaughan said. "Strauss is at three and I think he likes opening. I felt at my best when I have been batting at three and I score a lot more runs there, so it is an easy change."
Vaughan, who averaged 55 against the West Indies and India last summer batting at three, believes the move can help him regain the form of 2002-03, when he was the No 1 batsman in the world. "You have real periods in your career when you probably go beyond your normal and 2002-03 was a stage where everything went incredibly well for me," he said. "That period can come back." Ironically Vaughan opened the batting in 2002-03.
If Vaughan's form fails to return and his place in the team comes under pressure, Kent's Robert Key may be the man to benefit. Key was yesterday named in a 26-man England Performance squad.
Key was unfortunate to be discarded by England three years ago. He was dropped six Tests after scoring a magnificent double hundred at Lord's in 2004. Also in the squad are Adil Rashid, Yorkshire's exciting leg-spinning all-rounder, and Michael Carberry, the Hampshire opener who impressed during the England Lions winter tour. The rest were all selected by England during the winter.