Vaughan set to open as England test the water

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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan announced yesterday that he will open the batting in the one-day series against West Indies. Since England's captain is one of the most prolific of Test openers and was not so long ago the No 1 ranked batsman in the world, this should hardly be news.

In fact, it marks a complete reversal of policy. Vaughan has never gone in first for England in any of his previous 39 one-day internationals. The small number of matches he has played (he already has 44 Test caps) indicates that he was never fully viewed as a limited-overs batsman.

When he will have the chance to try out his new role for size is debatable. The first match is in serious jeopardy already, rain having fallen steadily over Georgetown for most of the past two days.

The Bourda ground, which is below sea level, dries quickly, something it has needed to do over the years to perform the function for which it was intended. If Manchester has something of a reputation for rain being around when cricket is about to be played, Georgetown makes it seem like a dustbowl.

"I'm going to start off going in with Marcus Trescothick as we've been successful in Test matches," Vaughan said yesterday. "I've opened for Yorkshire in one-day cricket and had most of my success there, but I've never had the opportunity to do it before for England."

That last statement begs the question of why not. The feeling is that England have been marking time while their best batsman has been featuring in every position between three and seven. It is remarkable, given his range of impeccable attacking strokes, that he still averages only 25 in the short game.

England will move to second place in the world one-day rankings if they win all seven matches of the Cable and Wireless series. It is difficult to decide which is the more improbable: that overwhelming margin of victory, or that there will be seven matches to win.

If it seems an unconscionably long series, one-day cricket, in every country but England, is where the cash and public interest lie. Anybody doubting that should be aware of the recent attendances at the Test matches between India and Pakistan. The two nations for whom the sport is part of the national rite were meeting in Pakistan for the first time in 14 years. In Multan and, of all places, Lahore the crowd could be counted in hundreds. In Rawalpindi for the decider, the stands were never more than a third full.

England will simply get on with it, and they have more reasons to be pleased than annoyed. Vaughan apart, this series offers them an opening to try new combinations and to find out more about players in the maelstrom of tight finishes. To enable them to do this they have summoned Darren Gough once more.

At 33, he is easily the oldest player in the party (Ashley Giles, recently 31, is the next in line), and Frank Sinatra, wherever he is, might be extremely miffed that his world record for comebacks is under severe threat. Gough will have a part to play here in showing the other seamers how to bowl in one-day cricket, but their first priority must be to get the batting right.

Chris Read will keep wicket throughout, and if that is not the most ridiculous English selectorial decision of recent times, alternative choices on a postcard are welcome. This is not to denigrate Read, whose wicket-keeping is of the highest class, but he has just been dropped from the Test team because his batting was deemed not up to it. Specialist one-day keepers are to be found only on the ark.

If England are a largely unknown quantity - they won a famous victory at Lord's against South Africa last summer, but were hammered by Sri Lanka in the only match played last autumn - West Indies are no great shakes. In the mercurial, invariably compelling Chris Gayle they have the world No 1 limited-overs batsman, but that has not stopped them losing three of their last four series.

For the first match at least, if it takes place, they will be led by Ramnaresh Sarwan, as Brian Lara is resting the little finger he broke in the First Test. Vaughan opening for England is one thing, but this series needs Lara back quickly.

ONE-DAY SERIES

Today: 1st ODI (Guyana)
24 April: 2nd ODI (Trinidad)
25 April: 3rd ODI (Trinidad)
28 April: 4th ODI (Grenada)
1 May: 5th ODI (St Lucia)
2 May: 6th ODI (St Lucia)
5 May: 7th ODI (Barbados)

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