Michael Vaughan has not ruled out playing for England in the forthcomingfive one-day matches against Sri Lanka after making a successful return to competitive cricket with Yorkshire on Monday. After he has spent almost seven months hobbling around the periphery of the England side with a dodgy right knee, it is an understandable desire. Cricket careers are short enough as it is and no player enjoys being injured, especially the captain of a successful England team.
But anyone with an interest in English cricket must balance their yearning for Vaughan to make an immediate return to international cricket against the long-term requirements of the team and the player. It would be great to see Vaughan lead England in Belfast on 13 June, when they play Ireland in a NatWest series warm-up game, but I would rather he and the selectors showed caution and common sense.
England can live without Vaughan for another six weeks, even though his prowess as a captain has become more evident while he has been absent. He does not want to increase the chances of aggravating the joint by diving around in a largely irrelevant one-day international. Vaughan should save what cricket he has left in his knee for the Test arena, and I would like to see his international comeback being the first Test against Pakistan on 13 July.
Andrew Flintoff has performed admirably as a stand-in, but he is no Vaughan. What you see is what you get with Flintoff, and he has captained the side in the same way that he plays his cricket. There has been no fuss and no posturing, just the wholehearted and unselfish approach of an honest and likeable man.
Flintoff has made the odd mistake - underbowling Monty Panesar in the first Test against Sri Lanka was one - but the selectors were right to pick him as the short-term replacement for Vaughan. If, however, Vaughan were to suffer a setback over the coming weeks England would have to consider seriously a long-term alternative, and I would go for Andrew Strauss.
But enough of the negativity. Every England supporter would have been gladdened to see yesterday's pictures of Vaughan batting at Headingley. The sight of him cutting and driving his way to 67 will not have gone unnoticed in Australia, where his captaincy is feared almost as much as Flintoff's brilliance.
With the Ashes and the World Cup fast approaching, it is important for England to win as many matches as they can this summer, but above all they need a fully fit and confident Vaughan boarding the plane for Sydney in early November.
There are 14 further games in which Vaughan could play for Yorkshire before 13 July, includingthree County Championship matches. There is also a match at Canterbury from 6 to 9 July, when England A take on Pakistan. The way forward needs to be planned carefully so the risk of a setback is reduced. It made sense for Vaughan to test his knee in a one-day game on Monday, but England will be reluctant to allow him to play in any more.
Vaughan needs four-day county cricket to rediscover his Test form and it is to be hoped that his rehabilitation continues at Headingley today when Yorkshire take on Hampshire. Vaughan should be protected from the Twenty20 Cup, which starts at the end of next month, and it would do him no harm to captain England A against Pakistan a week before the first Test.
Vaughan admits there are plenty more hurdles to overcome before he leads England out at Lord's. The first appears to have been cleared safely; quite often it can be the hardest.
Plotting Vaughan's best route to Lord's
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