Vaughan's England fate in the balance

Former captain thought to be the favourite for recall as selectors finalise Test squad
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The Independent Online

Conspiracy theorists are convinced of the real reason for postponing the announcement of England's first Test team of the summer. The selectors were determined to delay it until Michael Vaughan scored some runs.

It is the same logic which suggests referees add on time until Manchester United net the winning goal. Poppycock, of course, though if Vaughan should be named this morning in the squad for the match against the West Indies, which begins at Lord's next Wednesday, Dan Brown could probably consider writing another execrable page-turner about it.

As in most such matters there is almost certainly more cock-up than conspiracy. The original date for the announcement of the squad was last week when the selectors and their cohorts would have seen almost no first-class cricket on which to base their judgements.

The amendment was entirely sensible because while nothing much was likely to change, it gave everybody concerned more time for proper reflection as the season started. Not that the deferment as it applied to Vaughan was entirely fanciful. Enough has been said to suggest that people in high places think he can still perform a significant role – the coach Andy Flower and the captain Andrew Strauss among them – but he still needed some runs to lend any sort of validity to that belief.

To the general excitement of his supporters he managed 82 in an Friends Provident Trophy match on Sunday but first-class runs have proved stubbornly elusive. In his last opportunity to state a persuasive case yesterday he was kept waiting to bat for three hours while Yorkshire's first wicket put on 119, clearly failing to understand that they were bit-part players preventing the leading man from taking the stage. No sooner had he entered the arena than it rained.

But the selectors must know that Vaughan would be a hunch. They would be picking the Vaughan in 2009 desperately hoping he could be the Vaughan of 2003 again. The other options for the No 3 spot are Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah, who in case anybody has forgotten is the man in possession.

By now, Bell should have nailed the position but he had a lean run until being dropped in the West Indies and there remain concerns that his temperament may not match his talent. Bopara seems to have both in abundance but selecting him at three now would be bold to the point of folly. Shah failed not so much because he failed to make runs on flat pitches but because he was so clearly in a state of nervous agitation.

One possible solution would be to ask Kevin Pietersen to bat at No 3 with Bell following at four but that is improbable. Pietersen has made himself comfortable at four and may point out that only Denis Compton and David Gower have made more runs there for England.

The other topic to have dominated the long panel discussion yesterday was whether to play five bowlers or four. At Lord's – where there have been six successive draws – even five bowlers may not be enough.

In the absence of Andrew Flintoff, whose knee operation was reported yesterday to have been successful, the identity of a fourth seamer is hardly clear. Sajid Mahmood may be recalled though it seems startling to be making a case for a bowler who has taken five wickets in an innings only twice in a first-class career which began seven years ago. Graeme Onions of Durham, however, did it last weekend. Whoever they pick, England are not doing so from an embarrassment of riches.

England's possible 13: AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IR Bell, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, SJ Harmison, JM Anderson, SI Mahmood, RS Bopara, G Onions.