Time for Vaughan and Fletcher to bond and blood new talent

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The Independent Online

It is seven years since an England side left these shores under such pressure. During the winter of 1996-97, England, then under the captaincy of Michael Atherton, toured Zimbabwe for the first time knowing that anything but a resounding series win would be viewed as a failure. After drawing two Tests against the worst Test team in the world, Atherton's squad then travelled to New Zealand. Following their inept performances, England's players could not have chosen a better place to escape, but even there they were too close to home for the hostile reaction that followed.

Fortunately for Michael Vaughan, who arrives in Dhaka today for his first winter tour in charge of England, Bangladesh are a much weaker side than those Atherton encountered. Two Test matches and three one-dayers in the oppressive heat that can engulf that part of Asia is sure to test both fitness and resolve, but once again anything but a 2-0 Test series win will attract huge criticism - even if Bangladesh are making progress under their new coach, Dav Whatmore.

Under the former Sri Lanka coach the new minnows of the game have started to become competitive, but they are yet to win a Test match. Bangladesh have lost 23 of the 24 Tests they have played in since 2001, when they became full members of the International Cricket Council.

It would be unfair to judge England's success on the first of this winter's three tours solely on results and the margin of their victories, but it is vital for Vaughan's confidence that his side travel to Sri Lanka at the end of November having played good, consistent cricket.

Since being thrust into the captaincy in July, Vaughan has had little chance to sit down with the England coach, Duncan Fletcher - who yesterday agreed on a new contract with the England and Wales Cricket Board which will keep him in charge of the team until 2005 - and plan for the future.

With the England rugby side set to grab most of the limelight in the next month, this tour should give the Fletcher and Vaughan a perfect opportunity to build a strong partnership and then start moulding this group of players into the England team they want to see.

The withdrawal of Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson, two players around whom any England side of the future is sure to be built, is a blow but with the volume of international cricket - and therefore the number of injuries to players - only set to increase, it is important that Vaughan and Fletcher have as large a pool of talent to pick from as possible.

Now is the time for England to begin turning inexperienced but talented players like Rikki Clarke, Paul Collingwood, Chris Read, Geraint Jones, Gareth Batty, Martin Saggers and Richard Johnson into the real thing, as well as finishing off the development of Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison.

The loss of Flintoff looks set to give Clarke a chance to show he is a Test star of the future. "Andrew Flintoff not going has given Clarke a huge opportunity," Fletcher said at the England hotel prior to the team's departure. "He is not as quick a bowler as Andrew but he fills that same role we have been looking for as a batting all-rounder. He is a very talented cricketer." Clarke may have scored only 64 runs in the seven one-day games he played for England during the summer but his 34-ball innings of 37 against South Africa at Edgbaston highlighted the potential of the Surrey all-rounder. The 22-year-old's bowling is inconsistent and in need of hard work but his batting looks classy.

Standing tall at the crease, the right-hander bats with the confidence of a man who has been brought up on good Oval wickets. Clarke is strong off both the front and the back foot and can score runs all around the wicket. The Londoner may have to make way for Flintoff when the Lancashire all-rounder returns for England's pre-Christmas visit to Sri Lanka, but by putting in impressive performances over the next six weeks he could secure a place to the West Indies in February next year.

Vaughan has promised that England will not underestimate Bangladesh despite their appalling Test record. "Over the last six Tests they have played, they've scared a couple of good teams," the England captain said. "You have to treat them exactly the same as playing anyone else. We'll prepare in exactly the same manner and come up with plans to make sure we're fully equipped in all situations. We have to give them the utmost respect but we fully expect to go there and win."

Fletcher, speaking about the deal that will make him England's longest serving coach, said: "I have agreed to everything and it has given me quite a lot of confidence. I'm just really pleased to be involved in the England side. This arrangement will assist me in developing a long-term plan for the England team - and I can focus fully on the challenges that lie ahead in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies this winter."

Destination Bangladesh: England party and itinerary

Today: Arrive in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

12-14 Oct: Three-day match v BCB President's XI.

16-18 Oct: Three-day match v Bangladesh A.

21-25 Oct: First Test v Bangladesh (Dhaka).

26 Oct: Fly to Chittagong.

29 Oct-2 Nov: Second Test v Bangladesh (Chittagong).

5 Nov: One-day warm-up match v BCB development squad.

7 Nov: First one-day international v Bangladesh (Chittagong).

8 Nov: Flight to Dhaka.

10 Nov: Second one-day international v Bangladesh (Dhaka) (day/night).

12 Nov: Third one-day international (Dhaka) (day/night)

13 Nov: Fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka for three-Test series.

England Test squad: M P Vaughan (capt); G J Batty; M A Butcher; R Clarke; P D Collingwood; A F Giles; S J Harmison; M J Hoggard; N Hussain; R L Johnson; G O Jones (wkt); C M W Read (wkt); M J Saggers; G P Thorpe; M E Trescothick.

England One-Day squad: M P Vaughan (capt); J M Anderson; G J Batty; I D Blackwell; R Clarke; P D Collingwood; A Flintoff; A F Giles; R C Johnson; R J Kirtley; A McGrath; C M W Read (wkt); V S Solanki; A J Strauss; M E Trescothick.