In case it should be forgotten, English cricket will for ever be indebted to Michael Vaughan. The last time he played against Australia he did something that had hopelessly eluded his five immediate predecessors as captain in nine consecutive Test series. Not to mention, in spectacular fashion, the only successor so far.
He won the Ashes. That is why the doorway leading back to the England team was kept more gaping than ajar yesterday when he was left out of the squads which will leave next month for series of four Test matches, one Twenty20 and five one-day internationals in the West Indies.
There had been much speculation that Vaughan would be recalled to the Test party for the first time since his emotional departure as captain last summer after the series against South Africa was lost. In the event, despite the poor form of some batsmen, most glaringly Ian Bell, the selectors agreed that they could not defy the tenets of their entire policy.
This is based, they like to think, on loyalty and continuity. Sentiment should not be allowed to play too great a role in professional sport, but then if it has no role at all it is not worth playing. Bell was reprieved.
The 16-strong squad party is exactly that which lost the two-match series in India 1-0 – the errant fast bowler Stephen Harmison, the waning spinner Monty Panesar, the rookie leg-break bowler Adil Rashid and the underemployed reserve wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose are all included.
The retention of 20-year-old Rashid has clearly been made with an eye on the 2009 Ashes. If the selectors have judged it right, he could yet have a part to play. It is certain that he must have impressed as a late addition to the Test squad in India, not simply in terms of his cricketing ability but how he fitted into the dressing room. He is what is known as a young 20.
There was something almost plaintive in the reaction of Geoff Miller, the chairman of selectors, in explaining the squads' composition. "Michael Vaughan has not yet had an opportunity to prove his form in order to be considered for selection for the Test side," he said. "He does, however, remain very much in our thoughts as we continue to plan for the Test series against Australia later this summer.
"He will play a full part in Yorkshire's pre-season programme, which will include a tour to Dubai, and we will continue to monitor his form closely once the domestic season begins in April."
No sense of rejection there. But Vaughan and the selectors must now hope for two things to happen, that he rediscovers his lost form and that somebody else in the England set-up fails, though not so much that it will preclude two runaway series victories away and at home against West Indies in the next five months.
Vaughan could not buy a run for most of last summer but insisted that this was caused purely by a lacklustre mental state than any technical deficiency. Some of his shots supported this, some did not.
The trouble with having two winter tours is that the selectors have virtually no room for manoeuvre. If the first lot fail – as they did last winter and this – there is no recent form on which changes can be based. There is a recent precedent: Andrew Strauss was dropped for Sri Lanka last winter but then recalled for New Zealand, where eventually he resurrected his career.
Vaughan might well have done something similar, so Bell can probably count himself lucky. The last chance saloon he is currently drinking is running out of ale. The selectors have probably got it right.
Whether Bell will take part in the Test series ahead of Owais Shah is more doubtful. Miller reiterated that now the squad had been chosen the final XI would be down to the coach, Peter Moores and the captain, Kevin Pietersen, though the new policy is that another selector – either Miller, Ashley Giles or James Whittaker – will also be involved on tour. By any reasonable reckoning Shah deserves a bash.
The inclusion of Harmison was predictable and correct. By now, everybody knows what Harmison is like as a bowler and man, but watching him last summer, on his recall by England and in helping to propel Durham to the County Championship, reaffirmed that there is nothing weak about his heart. Sometimes he has too much of it and wants to give everybody, including his family, a share all at once.
But if England are to win the Ashes, a prospect that becomes less improbable by the day given what is happening to Australia, they will need Harmison because there is no successor of his type in sight. And they will therefore need him to do a lot of bowling before then – not too much but definitely not too little.
Rashid's presence will put immediate pressure on the other two spinners in the squad, Panesar and Graeme Swann. It is highly improbable that there will be room for more than one of them in the Test XI. Rashid's bowling is not the finished article – and why should it be at his age? – but if his action can falter he still bowls wicket-taking deliveries which spin and his 62 Championship wickets last summer were more than 20 ahead of the next spinner.
There some amendments to the one-day squad. Dimitri Mascarenhas is recalled with the mystery of why he was dropped in the first place no closer to being solved. He did not let England down – well, never more than anybody else – and his five sixes in an over will remain a memory to relish from the 2007 season.
The inclusion of the Worcestershire wicketkeeper Steven Davies might seem belated recognition for his performances last summer. It was the worst news for James Foster who is, by fairly common consent, not only a reliable keeper but someone whose electrifying displays can lift a side. This quality is not to be underestimated but might have been. Davies will have Matt Prior looking over his shoulder.
The Lions squad to New Zealand is being led by Robert Key of Kent. Like a few others, he might have cause to muse whether there will ever come an opportunity for higher recognition.
The International Cricket Council will this week introduce a new anti-doping code which will subject players to random out-of-competition testing at short notice. The strengthened code, modified to comply with World Anti-Doping Agency rules, will come into force on Thursday.
"The ICC has a zero-tolerance approach to doping in cricket and this new code serves to reinforce that position," said the ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat. "This code means it has just become even harder for drug cheats to get away with doping practices and it is part of our continued battle to ensure fair competition."
The code will require players to submit to testing not only during competitions but also at any other time, with players responsible for informing the ICC of their movements.
Missed tests are the responsibility of players, who would face charges if they miss three within an 18-month time period. In addition to subjecting players to more stringent testing conditions, the code also gives the ICC more powers to impose sanctions and penalties on players who test positive.
The ICC is to establish a doping hearing panel from which members can be drawn to sit on tribunals, which will consider individual cases. The body has been a signatory to the WADA code since 2006, and has been testing since 2002. During that time, no player has ever tested positive.
Despite the good record so far, Lorgat vowed to remain vigilant. "We must never become complacent when it comes to protecting our sport against drug cheats," he said.
There have been several high-profile cases involving cricketers. The retired Australian spinner Shane Warne was withdrawn from the 2003 World Cup in South Africa after testing positive for a diuretic in a domestic check in the build-up to the event. Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in 2006 in out-of-competition tests conducted by the Pakistan board before the Champions Trophy in India. They were banned for two years, but the suspension was overturned on appeal.Reuse content