Vaughan forced out of Ashes reckoning

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The Independent Online

The Michael Vaughan soap opera took another intriguing twist on the final day of England's warm-up match against Western Australia when the team's official captain was denied an opportunity to bat. England, quite rightly, chose to give practice to those who may feature in the third Test which starts on Thursday, not someone whose rehabilitation from a career-threatening knee injury is still in the early stages.

The prudent judgement has left everyone wondering why on earth England decided to pick Vaughan for the match in the first place. England have several players who are in need of practice and it would have been folly to allow him to bat ahead of Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles or Sajid Mahmood. Vaughan, by all accounts, was not particularly happy with the decision as it ended any chance he had of playing in the final two Ashes Tests.

Vaughan admitted that he was struggling to be fit for Melbourne and Sydney in an interview with a Sunday newspaper, stating that the one-day series, which begins in a month's time, is a more realistic option. He also said that it was rubbish to suggest that his presence is having a detrimental effect on the England team. Perhaps he should have a word with some of his team-mates who do not have a clue what is going on. He is wrong if he feels that it is not a distraction.

Andrew Strauss, who captained England in the two-day match against Western Australia, explained the reasoning behind Vaughan's demotion.

"Vaughny was due to come in at four but as the day wore on it became more a question of giving the guys who may be involved in the Test match a run out," he said. "That is why he slipped down the order. He came through fielding on Saturday really well and he was fit to bat, which is encouraging for him and us."

Strauss and Alastair Cook made the most of a lacklustre day's cricket scoring 88 and 106 respectively. Ed Joyce, Marcus Trescothick's replacement, highlighted his class with a well-constructed 73 and Chris Read showed Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, that he can bat by striking 59. Jones and Giles, two of Fletcher's favourites, were the only ones to fail with the bat. Jones edged his first ball to slip and Giles pulled to square-leg on four.

Strauss looked in excellent touch during his three-hour innings. He drove the ball pleasantly and pulled with control. The openers put on 183 for the first wicket before Strauss was bowled when sweeping at the left-arm spin of Aaron Heal.

Cook struggled initially. He was dropped at second slip on 37 but by the time the left-hander had reached 50 he was timing the ball sweetly. Cook struck Brett Dorey for four consecutive boundaries to move into the nineties, and he completed his century off the 158th ball he faced. At tea he retired in order to give his team-mates practice.

England's batsmen were not the only players to have a decent workout. On Saturday the bowlers were given the chance to work at their games in the hope that they can put Australia's batsmen under pressure. Stephen Harmison bowled better than his figures suggested but James Anderson, with 3 for 53, was the pick of the attack. "Jimmy bowled as well as I have seen him bowl," said Strauss. "He swung the ball late and he bowled very few bad balls. He had a tough time in the first two Tests but this type of pitch seemed to suit his style of bowling better.

"I know his figures do not look very good but I think Harmy is coming right. He's not having a lot of luck at the moment. I thought he bowled better in Adelaide and he bowled pretty well on Saturday. We all hope that he continues to improve and that his luck changes. He's hurting because he felt he had a big contribution to make. It hasn't worked out that way but he is working harder than I've ever seen him and I feel it will bear fruit for him. He needs to be patient and things will happen. You don't go from being a world-class bowler to nothing overnight."

Monty Panesar had a good workout, too, bowling 25 overs to Giles' eight, and Strauss believes that spin will have a big influence on the Test. "I wouldn't read anything in to the number of overs each bowler bowled," he said. "It was important that Monty had a good bowl. He has not done a huge amount of bowling on the trip so far. The pitch suited a slightly quicker left-arm spinner and that is why he bowled more overs."