Vaughan's future in the balance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

While overindulging during the festive season the England selectors will have spent time considering whether to do the same with their 16-man Test squad for the West Indies, which will be announced today. England travel to the Caribbean in three weeks' time but will Michael Vaughan be part of that party?

The selection or rejection of Vaughan, the former England captain, will be the hot topic of discussion when Geoff Miller, the chief selector, delivers the squad. Whatever conclusion the committee come to they are likely to receive criticism.

If Vaughan is named in the squad the reasons for his return will be questioned. The 34-year-old has done nothing to warrant inclusion since resigning as captain four months ago. His form prior to standing down – 134 runs in five Tests at an average of 16.75 – was poor and he has played no cricket of note since.

Should Vaughan be overlooked the reasons for him being offered a sought after and lucrative 12-month central contract in September will be quizzed. By rule, central contracts are only awarded to players the selectors believe will have a role to play in the England team during the year. Vaughan has not played one-day cricket for England since the 2007 World Cup and asked not to be considered for the recent tour of India. Were he to miss out on the Caribbean it would mean he has been done nothing to justify the first six months of his England and Wales Cricket Board salary.

Ultimately, Vaughan's selection for the four-Test tour should depend on whether the selectors or Kevin Pietersen, the current captain, believe he has a role to play in next summer's Ashes. If the answer is yes then the mental rehabilitation should start today. If it is no then England, despite the cost, must move on.

If Vaughan tours it should be at the expense of Ian Bell. Before England's Test tour of India it was Andrew Strauss who looked most vulnerable to Vaughan's resurrection. By scoring magnificent hundreds in each innings of the first Test and through being a strong and positive influence when England were deliberating whether to return, that is no longer the case.

While Strauss' reputation grew, Bell's receded. In his last five Test appearances England's No 3 has scored 182 runs at an average of 20.2. Bell's record against Australia – 502 runs at an average of 25 – is ordinary too. Most disconcerting is that in 45 Tests he is yet to score the first England hundred in a match. Against Australia England will need a No 3 who takes on the responsibility of dictating where the Test goes.

Vaughan has done this in the past and his record against Australia – 959 runs at 47.95 – is impressive. It has all become a bit too cosy for Bell and he needs a kick up the backside. He is only 26 and he will return.

Selection for the tour would not guarantee Vaughan a place in the first Test in Jamaica. Bell's spot should go to Owais Shah, who continues to wait patiently on the sidelines. Shah continues to impress in limited-over cricket and England need to find out whether he has what it takes to succeed in the Test arena. Kent's Robert Key would probably not let England down, either.

Like Bell, Monty Panesar's form of late – 18 wickets in seven Tests at an average of 41 – has been disappointing. Graeme Swann's encouraging display in India means that England's premier spinner can no longer take his place in the team for granted. Adil Rashid, Yorkshire's exciting young leg-spinning all-rounder, will be presented by some as a replacement for Panesar but these requests, for the time being, should be ignored. Panesar may not be making much progress but he is still a fine bowler and Rashid has work to do.

Matthew Prior enhanced his reputation during the series in India, and if Tim Ambrose was good enough to be reserve wicketkeeper before Christmas he must go to the Caribbean.

The other place worth debating is that of the enigmatic Stephen Harmison. It was felt that Harmison's omission from the second Test in Chandigarh signified an end to Pietersen's trust in him. But Harmison remains the same as he has always been. Harmison is a daisy figure; some days he does, some days he doesn't.

By now everyone should be aware of what they get from him – uncertainty. He will not change, and in many ways nor should he – there is nothing wrong with putting family before career. It is a question of whether the selectors and Harmison's team-mates are prepared to tolerate his priorities.

As with Vaughan, Pietersen will have a huge say in Harmison's future. But unlike Bell, Harmison is a proven match-winner, as is Panesar. Harmison and Panesar shape games: Bell, as of yet, does not. It was at Sabina Park, Jamaica, in 2004 that Harmison highlighted his enormous potential when he took 7 for 12 against West Indies. It was one of the most hostile and frightening spells of fast bowling the ground has seen, and when you consider the great West Indian bowlers that have played there, that is saying something. The performance heralded the start of a golden spell for Harmison, a period that culminated in him being ranked the best bowler in the world and the 30-year-old playing a leading role in England's 2005 Ashes triumph. Pietersen and the selectors may feel it is a gamble worth taking.

Ryan Sidebottom and Amjad Khan are expected to support Andrew Flintoff, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Harmison. Sidebottom's fitness means there is an element of risk in picking him too, but he has had a good rest and plenty of time to overcome his ailments. The injury-prone fast bowler deserves another chance, but should he fail to come through the West Indies tour unscathed his international career could be in jeopardy.

It is hard to believe England will completely persist with the one-day squad which crashed 5-0 in India. Kent's Joe Denly must be in with a chance as he offers more than Alastair Cook. Khan or Sajid Mahmood appear better options than Harmison.

Windies of change?: Possible squad

Michael Vaughan's average score in his last five Tests before standing down as captain

*Angus Fraser's possible squad: K Pietersen (Hants, capt), A Strauss (Middx), A Cook (Essex), O Shah (Middx), M Vaughan (Yorks), P Collingwood (Durham), A Flintoff (Lancs), M Prior (Sussex), T Ambrose (Warwicks), G Swann (Notts), M Panesar (Northants), S Broad (Notts), J Anderson (Lancs), S Harmison (Durham), R Sidebottom (Notts), A Khan (Kent).

*Test dates: First Test (Kingston) 4-8 Feb 2009; Second Test (Antigua) 13-17 Feb; Third Test (Barbados) 26 Feb-2 Mar; Fourth Test (Trinidad) 6-10 Mar.

Comments