Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Lahore November 28, 2005

Vaughan replaces Strauss as opener



Michael Vaughan will open the innings for the first time since May 2004. © Getty Images

Michael Vaughan will return to the top of England's batting order for the first time since the tour of the Caribbean in April 2004, as his team seeks to secure a share of the series in the final Test against Pakistan at Lahore.

Vaughan relinquished his opening berth after Andrew Strauss had scored a century on debut against New Zealand in May 2004, a match that Vaughan had been forced to miss with a knee injury. Now, however, he returns to his former role while Strauss is in England, attending the birth of his first child.

"It was the natural thing for me to open," said Vaughan, adding that Ian Bell would be shifting up to No. 3 in the order and Paul Collingwood, if selected, to No. 4. "I've always felt comfortable batting at the top of the order, and Bell and Colly have never done it. I've not done too bad there either."

Indeed he hasn't. In 31 Tests as an opener, Vaughan has averaged 49.70, with 10 of his 15 centuries coming from the front. Alastair Cook, Vaughan added, had been a serious option, but an unrealistic one. "He hasn't played any cricket at all and it would have been a big, big ask to make his first game of the tour a Test."

England's other conundrum surrounds their bowling attack, where the temptation has been to include an extra seamer in place of one of the two spinners, Ashley Giles and Shaun Udal. The probability of this happening has been increased by the state of the wicket, which with two days to go is soft and damp, and is likely to remain so given the overcast conditions that have been prevailing in Lahore.

"We'll see how the weather plays," said Vaughan. "I can't see it having too much pace in it as we speak, but if the weather stays as it is could start a little damp. We'll try and come up with the best formula to win the game. We've got quite a few options, and we need to decide the best attack to take 20 wickets."

England's selection dilemma could be eased if Ashley Giles is forced out of the reckoning because of his hip injury. He is due to fly home for surgery after the Test series, but Vaughan still believed he was the best man for a tricky job.

"He's obviously the favourite," said Vaughan. "Percentage-wise, if he's 60-70 percent fit, then he's a good enough performer to play in England team. He's had little niggles in the past, but he's done a good job for us.

"Obviously he's concern because he's going home to have an operation, but we've seen over the last few years that he's a huge member of the team and not just in terms of his bowling. He scores vital runs at crucial times, and it's a difficult decision to know what is the best thing to do. We'll monitor the situation over the next couple of days."

In the event of England playing four seamers, then James Anderson is the frontrunner, given his prior Test experience. But Vaughan refused to rule out the possibility of a surprise debut for Durham's Liam Plunkett. "Jimmy's been looking good in the nets," he said, "but young Plunkett's impressed us all on this tour with his work ethic. He's got a fair amount of ability, but it'll be a good opportunity for any of them if selected."

England's quest for victory is likely to be hampered by the weather, given the start time is set for 10am, rather than the usual 9.30am. "It's got a lot to do with the dewy ground," said Vaughan, "At 10am today it was still quite wet, but I wouldn't say I'm worried. That's the way cricket is played out here. It's a slower game than we're used to back home. We need to set things up on days one, two and three, then get an opportunity to win the game days four and five."

There is the possibility that the Gadaffi Stadium floodlights will be brought into play to help extend the evening sessions, but Vaughan was wary of the benefits they would bring. "Floodlights haven't been successful with the red ball," he said. "We'll wait and see if the sun pops its head out. On balance, it's probably better to be batting."

Having missed the first Test with a knee injury, Vaughan is set to fly home after this match to attend the birth of his second child. While he is in England he will be visiting his specialist to determine the full extent of his problem.

"I'll see the specialist next Monday or Tuesday when I'm at home," he said. "We'll see what's best for my knee. Hopefully it won't require an operation, and I'll be back playing the one-dayers on the 10th."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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