Vaughan handed opening dilemma
Monday 31 May 2004
Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher cannot win. On the eve of England's fourth Test against the West Indies in Antigua the captain and coach took the brave - and possibly wrong - step of dropping Chris Read, the teams best gloveman, for Geraint Jones, a batsman who keeps wicket. This move irked England's selectors and caused one of the quartet to consider resigning.
Following Andrew Strauss' remarkable Test debut at Lord's, England now have three opening batsmen challenging for the top of the order. Vaughan, Strauss and Marcus Trescothick will all play against New Zealand on Thursday, but one of them will fill the hole left by Nasser Hussain at number four.
Yet rather than be decisive and state which pair will open the batting at Headingley, the selectors have tossed this task back over to Vaughan and Fletcher. The decision may become academic if Vaughan fails to prove his fitness, but surely the selectors should have announced their intentions when they released their 13 man squad for the second Test?
Explaining their thinking David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said: "Michael is the captain of England and I think it is his responsibility to decide what the batting line-up is. We have given him our view but it is definitely down to Michael and Duncan Fletcher to decide." Handing the decision over to the two people closest to the side is understandable but it is hard to believe the selectors have not discussed this matter fully before now.
England's dithering will be seized upon by Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, and used as a way of motivating his side. It would suggest to him that England are not entirely sure what they should do.
Who should bat at four is the only contentious issue faced by England as they prepare for the Leeds Test match as the weather over the coming four days will dictate the make-up of their starting XI. Following their heavy defeat to South Africa at this venue last summer England are unlikely to repeat the policy of picking five seamers on Thursday morning.
This means the final spot will be contested for by Ashley Giles and Paul Collingwood. The forecast for the coming week is indifferent and this points to Collingwood playing his first Test match on English soil.
If he plays the Durham batsman will be under severe pressure to perform because England, in Robert Key, have a young player who is currently in the best form of his career. In the two Test matches he played in Sri Lanka Collingwood showed what a gritty player he is and probably deserves another chance, but the selectors cannot keep ignoring Key.
Close attention will also be aimed at Geraint Jones. The Kent stumper scored a classy 46 at Lord's but still needs to improve his glovework if he is to be the right man to keep wicket for England.
England squad: M Vaughan (c), M Trescothick, A Strauss, M Butcher, G Thorpe, P Collingwood, A Flintoff, G Jones, A Giles, S Jones, S Harmison, M Hoggard, J Anderson.
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