Vaughan needs top six to justify places

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The Independent Online

The red half of Manchester remains in a state of rapture following Wednesday night's drama in Moscow but Michael Vaughan must ensure that the festive mood at the other Old Trafford does not radiate to his players this morning. England left Lord's on Monday realising that New Zealand will be no pushover, and should the minds of Vaughan's players stray at a ground with a history of producing results, so will their chances of winning the three-Test series.

Old Trafford – along with Edgbaston – has been England's favourite hunting ground in recent times. The home side have won four of their past five games at the venue, with the drawn match being the last-over cliff-hanger against Australia in 2005, cricket's equivalent to a penalty shoot-out. The fast, bouncy, spinning nature of the pitch has suited England's batsmen and bowlers more than the opposition, and Vaughan will be hoping this week's surface shows similar characteristics.

New Zealand's green batting line-up performed admirably at Lord's, successfully seeing out the final day of the first Test to keep the series level. But it is not England's bowlers who will be scrutinised closely here, even though they will be expected to put the Black Caps batsmen under pressure; it is the home side's batsmen who need to perform.

New Zealand bowled well at Lord's but England gave another disappointing batting display, collapsing from 121 without loss to 208 for 6 in the friendliest conditions of the Test. Vaughan's record-equalling sixth hundred at Lord's allowed his side to recover to 319, a competitive total against a modest side but not one that will intimidate Australia, South Africa or India.

England will retain the same side for the fourth match in a row and a look at the hosts' batting shows why they have won only two of their last 10 Tests. In the first innings of each of these games England have failed to get beyond 400. Their opponents, however, have passed the figure five times. Over the period Vaughan's side have averaged 282 in their first innings, against 369 by the opposition.

But England, rather smugly, have been reluctant to admit there is a problem with their top six batsmen, stating that each averages over 40. "What is the problem?" they ask. Statistically the defence is true but only two of these batsmen – Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen – average more in the second half of their careers than the first. Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Vaughan all averaged in the high 40s, but they are now toiling to keep it above 40. In the second half of their careers each averages under that figure.

Strauss was dropped for the tour of Sri Lanka and returned for the trip to New Zealand but there seems little desire to make changes, even though the approach gave England's bowlers the kick up the backside they needed when Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard were omitted.

"Nobody's place is guaranteed but I feel comfortable when we consistently start picking the same team," Vaughan said. "I don't think the batsmen are cosy, I watch them train and there is no complacency. Sometimes you can look too deeply at it and try too hard. They need to just play, express their talent and play the moment. If they do that big scores will come along.

"The recent stats suggest that the top six has not performed as well as it can in the first innings of Tests, and we really do try to get two players to a hundred in the first innings to get us the big score we want. We have all played well at times but not always as a collective unit, and we have fallen short of the 400, 450 total that we like to achieve.

"The most important thing is winning games of cricket and to do that you have to get 400 on the board consistently, and that is our aim against New Zealand now and against South Africa later in the summer. We are better than the runs we have scored in the past year and I think this pitch will offer us the perfect opportunity to get those runs."

Most of England's batsmen will draw confidence from their previous Tests here. Cook averages 98 at Old Trafford, while the means for Bell and Vaughan are 82 and 53 respectively. Pietersen – 136 runs at 27 – is the only one who has failed to cope with the extra pace and bounce but it can only be a matter of time.

Tim Southee has had a stomach virus and has hardly trained since the first Test but New Zealand have named him in their 12-man squad. Iain O'Brien will replace the fast bowler if he fails to prove his fitness.

England: M P Vaughan (capt), A N Cook, A J Strauss, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, T R Ambrose (wkt), S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.

New Zealand (from): D L Vettori (c), J M How, A J Redmond, J A H Marshall, L R P L Taylor, B B McCullum (wkt), D R Flynn, J D P Oram, K D Mills, T G Southee, C S Martin, I E O'Brien.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) & S J A Taufel (Aus).

Old Trafford five-day weather forecast

Today: Max temp: 18c; Sun, showers

Tomorrow: Max temp: 19c; Sunny

Sunday: Max temp: 17c; Sun, showers

Monday: Max temp: 15c; Rain

Tuesday: Max temp: 17c; Sun, showers