England in West Indies 2008-09 December 29, 2008

Vaughan's long road back gets narrower

Michael Vaughan's plan was to return to Yorkshire, churn out the runs, earn a winter tour place and have another crack at Australia in 2009. So much for the best-laid plans

Michael Vaughan must now focus on starting the season in a mountain of runs if he wants his England place back © Getty Images
When Michael Vaughan tearfully resigned the England captaincy at the beginning of August he made it clear he didn't think it was the end. His plan was to return to Yorkshire, churn out the runs, earn a winter tour place and have another crack at Australia in 2009. So much for the best-laid plans, there was no late Christmas present for Vaughan from the selectors.

At the end of the summer his mind had gone and after a few failures in county cricket he pulled out of the last match of the season. That was shortly followed by Geoff Miller's announcement that he wouldn't be considered for the India series even though he had been handed a central contract two weeks previously. Vaughan's next hope was a productive time with the Academy in Bangalore with a couple of matches to press his claims, but the Mumbai terror attacks ended those hopes.

Now he has been left out of the squad to tour West Indies and hasn't even been included in the Lions team to tour New Zealand, seemingly an ideal route for some reasonably competitive cricket in unpressurised surroundings. Instead, he has been told to begin pre-season with Yorkshire, which includes a one-day tournament in the Middle East, before the County Championship season starts in April.

For all Vaughan's desire to rekindle his spark against Australia time is now running desperately short. His last chance appears to be that England's batting slumps in the Caribbean and he starts the season with a bang before the two Tests against West Indies in May.

Four Ashes centuries and an average against Australia of 47.95 can't be overlooked and if neither Ian Bell or Owais Shah convince in West Indies the door will be ajar that little bit further. Kevin Pietersen, too, could still have a major say as he has huge respect for Vaughan and what he could add to the team. Eventually, though, time moves on too far and going back can stop a side moving forward. And if England's hopes against a troubled Australia side rest so heavily on a 34-year-old with dodgy knees it doesn't say much about what is coming through.

The selectors couldn't have justified selecting him for the four-Test tour of West Indies, regardless of his pedigree, past performances, experience and the fact he now appears an expensive luxury with an ECB contract. It would have sent out a depressing message to the batsmen waiting for the chance, notably Shah, if Vaughan had walked back in without picking up a run.

The selectors couldn't have justified selecting him for the four-Test tour of West Indies, regardless of his pedigree, past performances, experience and the fact he now appears like an expensive luxury with an ECB contract

His season looks likely to start in the humble surroundings of Fenner's where Yorkshire play Cambridge University on April 11, then there are two Championship matches before the first Test against West Indies. The first of those is against Durham, a potentially tasty encounter with Steve Harmison depending on how much he is rested after the Caribbean.

The way the fixture list has worked for next season, May is then dominated by one-day cricket - both 50-over and Twenty20 - except for the Tests against West Indies, so to have a realistic chance of playing the first Ashes Test at Cardiff he would have to play at Lord's and Chester-le-Street.

However, the fact that England stuck largely with the squad on duty in India doesn't mean the final XI will be the same. In fact, if there aren't changes, the calls of it being a closed shop will intensify. The No. 3 spot is still up for grabs after Bell's poor tour and Shah is waiting for a chance to add to his two Test caps. He was unlucky not get an opportunity in Mohali, but England's loyalty to Bell - and Miller's view that "you don't become a bad player overnight" when Bell's lean run has been much longer - is weighing the top-order down.

Bell can count himself lucky to be touring at all after making 182 runs in his last 10 Test innings, but he is especially fortunate to retain his one-day place after being dropped in India. The limited-overs selection is as uncertain as ever and a recall for Dimitri Mascarenhas plus a first chance for Steven Davies, Worcestershire's hard-hitting left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman, are the latest parts of the merry-go-round.

Although the next World Cup is just two years away England's main priority in 2009 will be their Test form with the Ashes contest looming. The two warm-up matches in St Kitts at the end of January are shaping to be vitally important for Bell and Shah, along with the fight for the spinner's spot between Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. Swann was comfortably the better spinner in India - and Caribbean conditions rarely require two, although don't rule it out in Antigua which is a batsman's paradise - so Panesar's place has never looked more insecure, especially with Adil Rashid also retained in the squad. Both Swann and Rashid offer an all-round package and if Panesar isn't taking wickets he isn't offering much.

But while those battles will be played out on the sun-kissed islands of the Caribbean, Vaughan's own fight will be far less exotic. Unless he finds himself some club cricket in South Africa or Australia he faces indoor nets at the Headingley and Loughborough before Yorkshire head to Abu Dhabi for the Pro-Arch tournament. Last March, that event provided Andrew Flintoff with his first competitive action after ankle surgery as he began is path back to international cricket. Vaughan can take inspiration from that, but the chances of him enjoying another Ashes adventure with Flintoff are fading.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Karthik on December 30, 2008, 14:55 GMT

    Vaughan is an overrated player. He had one good series in Australia, and has been riding on that ever since. His batting has been pathetic, and the way he gets cleaned up by fast bowlers (while looking picture perfect in defence) regularly indicates a serious flaw in his technique. England will be carrying unwanted load if they select him. I dont see him take the Aussie attack apart, even with their current poor form. Get rid of him forever.

  • Marc on December 30, 2008, 12:30 GMT

    Vaughan will always be remembered for the way he out-captained and out-played Ponting in the 2005 Ashes. It is part of the English psyche (much on display in the media) to dote on past glories, and this has influenced the current discussion. There is an incongruence between the selectors saying Vaughan is much in their minds for the 2009 Ashes but then asking him to prove his form in Yorkshire's preparation rather than having him tour with the English Lions. Keeping Vaughan "warm" in reserve should someone fail in the West Indies is a negative stance. A positive stance would have been: let's focus on the nr 3 slot. Drop Bell (everyone gets the jitters when he goes in with one wicket down early); send Vaughan on the Lions tour with the message: get yourself in form and you will play in the Ashes; play Shah at 3 in the West Indies. Then go for Vaughan or Shah, depending on who delivers. What a contest that would have been. The way things have panned out, I doubt Vaughan will be back.

  • g on December 30, 2008, 9:48 GMT

    ECB has gone mad by giving him a contract while his future anything but certain. I still cannot figure out why Owais Shah was overlooked for Bell at Mohali. England selectors are making the mistakes usually associated with Indian counterparts - taking decisions based on emotions/image rather than current delivery capability. I like Ian Bell but he looked awful throughout the India series and I would rather not watch him than watching him play like that!

  • Prince on December 30, 2008, 5:33 GMT

    Well,I wonder why Vaughan is not being recalled.Ian Bell can only score runs against popgun attacks,or when England is in a position of 300 for 3,& he has done nothing against Australia.Vaughan has been ever so impressive against Australia-why,against all teams.Now that he is free from captaincy,he can surely enjoy his stint as a pure batsman,against a stingless West Indies attack.It is indeed a very puzzling selection by the English selectors.

  • Tim on December 29, 2008, 23:21 GMT

    Michael Vaughan has an impressive record as a cricketer behind him, but that is not enough to justify selection without evidence in the form of First Class runs. But the opportunity for a recall is still there, but he will have to work hard. Owasis Shah has worked ever so hard to create and make the most of every opportunity he has with the England team. That is one reason why he should be selected ahead of Vaughan. The idea of Vaughan resurrecting his career to regain the Ashes is stuff of cricketing folklore, but with hard work and proactivity he can get there. Good luck Michael.

  • Santhosh on December 29, 2008, 20:50 GMT

    This is a very tough situation for vaughan, as he will be under immense pressure to prove himself with the likes of strauss, bell, shah. But based on the england selection history we can not rule anyone out of their contention.We never know if cook or bell gets injured, then the first name of their discussion will be vaughan as the replacement. And for a tour like WestIndies, the experience of vaughan will always be quite handful. if we analyze their current performance, it augurs that their following series' are not easy for them as we think. So i feel comback of vaughan is not so far.

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