Vaughan must choose reality over sentiment

Stewart and Gough likely to make way for younger, fresher talent as England captain faces pressure to stamp his mark on Test team

Michael Vaughan has several huge decisions to make before England announce their squad for the third Test at Trent Bridge. The England captain had no involvement in choosing the team thumped by South Africa at Lord's but the side announced on Saturday morning must bear his fingerprint. If Vaughan feels that he wants to give those who let him down a chance to redeem themselves, then so be it. At least everyone will know where English cricket's most influential figure is coming from.

Over the next three days the 28-year-old will receive plenty of advice about whom to drop, whom to pick and how to turn round England's fortunes. Most, if not all, of it will be given with good intent but the more he listens, the cloudier the picture will become. To clear his mind and work out what he really wants, Vaughan should disappear until Friday, when he meets up with the England selectors.

He has already shown he is not afraid to speak his mind as the team found after the innings defeat on Sunday. "I've just given a talk in the dressing-room which was pretty much down to the bone and pretty honest and maybe I told them a few facts which I just felt they needed to know," Vaughan said. "I felt that we were not as hungry as South Africa. I can't answer why, but it is something that needs to addressed."

It would be easy, but wrong for Vaughan and his selectors to pick the same side. Knee-jerk reactions, like the one made by Nasser Hussain eight days ago, could also be damaging but a new captain is under pressure to show he is different to the man he has replaced.

It is not just speculation that follows the arrival of a new leader. His appointment also brings excitement to players and supporters alike. Such interest would quickly die should "Vaughan's England" be seen as nothing more than Hussain's with a new coat of paint.

The Test careers of Alec Stewart and Darren Gough must be the first thing Vaughan takes a serious look at. He will be reluctant to leave out his most experienced batsman and bowler because they offer him reliability and reassurance.

These issues should not allow the selectors to avoid bringing in a younger man for Stewart. After an excellent one-day series, Nottinghamshire's Chris Read is the obvious replacement but Geraint Jones, of Kent, and James Foster, of Essex, should also be considered.

Whoever replaces Stewart, England's most capped cricketer, has an unenviable job because the Surrey veteran has been one of this country's great players. Stewart has been a model professional throughout his career but it would be wrong for the side if sentiment - Stewart announced he would retire from international cricket at the end of this series and was hoping for a tearful fanfare at The Oval as his exit - became the reason why he keeps his place.

What Vaughan needs is a young, vibrant keeper who is desperate to make a name for himself, not someone who is seeing out time. In business Stewart would have gone because there is no place in a company for an individual who has chosen to move on.

Gough has proved many people wrong by returning to the England Test side but he is no longer the force he once was. Wickets in the one-day game, where the onus is on batsmen to score runs, are easier to come by than in Test matches, where a bowler has to be able to force the pace.

The 32-year-old is too small to be a successful line and length bowler. His lack of height and bounce give him less margin for error than someone like Andrew Caddick. When Gough was young and supple he compensated for his lack of height with pace, skill and heart. When his fizz went, so did the ability to create opportunities on flat pitches.

Injury has left England short of replacements with Test match experience. Yorkshire's Matthew Hoggard and Glamorgan's Simon Jones are just returning from injury and Richard Johnson's right knee is continuing to trouble him. Those who are fit and in with a chance are James Kirtley, England's 12th man at Lord's, James Ormond and Steve Kirby.

Although Vaughan is fortunate to have fast bowlers with potential in the system, the scores racked up by the opposition in the first innings of Test matches against England are becoming a concern. If this summer's two Tests against a weak Zimbabwe team are excluded, the lowest total England have bowled a side out for is 363. The other scores since the Trent Bridge Test against India a year ago are 628 for 8, 508, 492, 552 for 9, 456, 551 for 6, 363, 594 for 5 and 682 for 6 at Lord's last week.

Hussain was lucky during his reign to have Gough and Caddick in their pomp. Vaughan needs James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and any of the above to start, if not hitting their straps, hitting a good length more consistently.

Although there are other players under pressure, the last to be replaced should be Anthony McGrath, Vaughan's captain at Yorkshire. McGrath is an honest but limited cricketer who has done little wrong but it is difficult to see him as a player who will bring back the Ashes in 2005.

It will be interesting to see whether Vaughan and the selectors show consistency and continue with Robert Key or decide to opt for the proven if somewhat unreliable quality of Graham Thorpe. They could of course gamble on the potential of Warwickshire's Ian Bell or pick Ed Smith from Kent or Andrew Strauss of Middlesex as a compromise. Whichever of these five they select will give a strong indication of their priorities.

Who could be out and who could be in for the Third Test

OUT: ALEC STEWART
The time has come for England to say thank-you to the Surrey veteran and move on. Stewart has had an outstanding career but is not part of Vaughan's future. After announcing he is to retire, he is seeing out time.

IN: CHRIS READ
Impressed with his glove-work and industrious batting during the one-day series. The hole left by Stewart is difficult to fill but Read is as capable as anyone. A poor report on his first England tour has hampered his progress.

OUT: ANTHONY McGRATH
A smashing lad who has certainly performed above everyone's expectations during his brief Test career. However, no amount of Yorkshire grit can make up for just not being quite up to it.

IN: IAN BELL
The Warwickshire batsman has had an indifferent season but remains one of English cricket's brightest young stars. England need to see how good he is and the challenge of Test cricket could bring out the best in him.

OUT: DARREN GOUGH
The mind is willing but the body will not respond. Even with the most desperate cajoling. England's eighth-highest Test wicket-taker can continue playing one-day internationals but his days as a spearhead have gone.

IN: JAMES ORMOND
Like Read, the Surrey paceman fell out with the England coach Duncan Fletcher early in his international career. Has consistently taken wickets for the champions this year on good pitches and deserves another go.

Comments