Vaughan's setback threatens Ashes quest

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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan's chances of playing international cricket this summer are beginning to look very remote after the England captain's rehabilitation from a chronic knee injury suffered another setback. Following a relatively successful return to the first-class game with Yorkshire there were hopes that Vaughan would be fit to play in the coming four-Test series against Pakistan, which starts in mid-July.

But these aspirations now seem certain to be dashed after soreness around his right knee prevented him from fielding in Yorkshire's Championship match against Sussex at Arundel yesterday. He did bat, at No 7, making four before being bowled leg before by Yasir Arafat. The setback has also forced Vaughan to withdraw from tomorrow's Cheltenham & Gloucester one-day game against Worcestershire, and the county's Twenty20 game against Durham on Tuesday.

Missing these matches is the least of Vaughan's problems - it is the prospect of further surgery and another lengthy period out of the game that will cause him the greatest concern. Vaughan's next step is yet to be decided but there is now a real chance that he will not be fit to lead England in Australia when they try to retain the Ashes. The first Test in Brisbane is five months away and Vaughan and his medical team, who meet to discuss the best way forward on Monday, need to act quickly if he is to take part.

Vaughan's situation will have done little to lift the spirits of a faltering England side that is in desperate need of its captain. After losing the final Test to Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge they were beaten in the Twenty20 match in Southampton and trail 2-0 in the five-match NatWest series with the third game taking place at Chester-le-Street today.

England's predicament may be as bleak as Vaughan's but the solution is more straightforward. If Andrew Strauss' side are to keep the series alive they will need to be much more disciplined with the ball than they were at Lord's and the Oval. England's problems at these venues were a direct result of indisciplined bowling and, in an attempt to return to winning ways, they will consider dropping Sajid Mahmood for Kabir Ali. The former conceded 80 runs in seven wild overs during Tuesday's 46-run defeat and he may be protected from further punishment.

The game will provide Stephen Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett the opportunity to perform in front of their home crowd. Durham have every reason to feel proud of the fact that they are supplying England with three players and each is keen to mark the day with a win.

England's chances have increased by Muttiah Muralitharan leaving the tour to be with his young son, who has undergone stomach surgery in India. The absence of the off-spinner gives Malinga Bandara his first international outing of the summer. Bandara, who took 39 Championship wickets in seven matches for Gloucestershire in 2005, is no stranger to English conditions, and he may find the dry Chester-le-Street pitch to his liking.

England (possible): A J Strauss (capt), M E Trescothick, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, J W M Dalrymple, G O Jones (wkt), T T Bresnan, Kabir Ali, L E Plunkett, S J Harmison.

Sri Lanka (possible): D P M D Jayawardene (capt), S T Jayasuriya, W U Tharanga, K C Sangakkara (wkt), T M Dilshan, C K Kapugadera, M F Maharoof, W P U J C Vaas, S L Malinga, M Bandara, C R D Fernando.

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