Vaughan stands firm on his knee

Captain returns as England try to play catch-up
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Will he play, won't he play? Will the wretched thing last the match? Half a century later, it seems, such considerations now apply to the England captain, Michael Vaughan, who yesterday declared himself fit to face Pakistan in the Second Test after missing the First, which culminated in surprising defeat last Wednesday.

Vaughan has not yet reached the level in public affection of Compton, his right knee is not yet as badly damaged, and arthroscopic surgery has come on slightly. But a concern it will remain about a player who has led the most successful England team of all. Without him they are not the same. This is Vaughan's side moulded in his image. They are competitive yet carefree, setting out to win but above all enjoying their cricket. Almost Comptonesque.

The knee first caused Vaughan problems when he twisted it in the Lord's nets in 2004, missing a New Zealand Test. Two weeks ago he sprained it again during England's practice match at Lahore. Four days ago, he revealed yesterday, he decided he was ready to play here.

There exists an element of risk, as the coach, Duncan Fletcher, conceded on Friday, but then, as he said, injuries could recur at any time. Vaughan stressed yesterday as he prepared to assume command again from the admirable Marcus Trescothick that he and the knee were ready.

He had long nets on two successive days, and though some observers thought he was running with a grimace, this may have been because it was so hot. There was a suggestion of a limp as he walked, but this may have been an overactive interpretation. The intensive treatment by the team physiotherapist, Kirk Russell - the sort not available to Compton - helped to persuade Vaughan that the knee would last five days.

The longer term, whatever might happen in Faisalabad, is much less certain. Keyhole surgery during England's long break after Christmas cannot be excluded. He was obviously determined to play here. To win the series, if not to keep it alive, England have to win this match and the next. They have come from behind before, not least against Australia in the summer, and did so in a three match series in the subcontinent when they beat Sri Lanka early in 2001, provoking what were then misguided pleas to bring on the Aussies that summer.

It is true that Vaughan's team in the temporary charge of Trescothick spurned their chances in Multan, first in not taking a more substantial first- innings lead, secondly in not knocking off 198 to win.

But it is also the case that they had got out of so many tight holes in the past two years they were probably due to fall into one. Trescothick deserves no discredit, incidentally. His 193 was perhaps his best, most complete innings for England. Not only was he belatedly asked to lead the side, which he did with alertness and aplomb, but he also had to deal with an accident last Saturday to his father-in-law. It was typical of Trescothick that, as Vaughan, said yesterday, the team hardly knew anything about it.

The big worry for England over the next five days is that Pakistan will simply try to keep their lead. The tourists' hugely effective modus operandi has involved blocking opposition scoring areas with accurate, honed bowling and well-drilled fielding. Pakistan now are in no hurry to score. If they have the patience they can wait and wait until the bowlers tire.

Vaughan's intention to play created a conundrum: whether to select Paul Collingwood, who was originally picked for the First Test and scored 10 and three, or Ian Bell, who was originally omitted before coming in for Vaughan, and scored 71 and 31. Superficially, it was easy, especially as Bell looked composed and Collingwood did not. But Collingwood would have been justified in mounting the defence that it was only his fourth Test match.

England have another injury concern. Ashley Giles is again suffering discomfort from the hip that kept him out of the two Tests against Bangladesh last season. Fletcher insisted Giles was fit but did not rule out his missing the one-day matches. Fitness, however, is different from effectiveness, and England need Giles at his most effective.

Pakistan are buoyant after their victory. Only the reporting for suspected actions of seamer Shabbir Ahmed and off-spinner Shoaib Malik rained on their parade. Their coach, Bob Wool-mer, was annoyed about Shabbir's treatment - seven deliveries were singled out - and has taken up the issue with the ICC.

But Shabbir's career is now under threat, as he has already undergone corrective work. Although the regulations allow his participation, Pakistan intended to play the impressive Sussex swing bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, keep Malik as opening batsman and probably replace batsman Hasan Raza with crowd favourite Shahid Afridi. It is now Pakistan's series to lose.