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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Captain crocked
By Paul Grunill

England skipper Michael Vaughan
Vaughan won't be padding up again in the near future
The Ashes victory of 2005 was a golden moment in English sporting history and the celebrations stretched into every corner of the country.

But it is looking increasingly likely that England's grip on the famous urn will be shaken loose in Australia this winter.

Thursday's statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board that skipper Michael Vaughan is to undergo a fourth knee operation confirmed what every England fan had been dreading.

The estimate for his return to action is four to six months.

If he is ready in four, he could be on the plane to Australia, but given his previous medical history that looks very optimistic.

If it takes any longer, then Vaughan's participation in the series will almost certainly be restricted to providing words of support and encouragement and fulfilling any media opportunities which come his way.

TMS VIEW
IShoaib

On the 2002-03 Ashes tour, he contributed 633 runs, including three centuries, to a losing effort.

But it is the possibility of losing his input as captain that England will feel most keenly this time.

Andrew Flintoff did his level best to fill the leadership vacuum in India, but he has fitness worries of his own with loose bone fragments in his ankle following surgery last year.

Andrew Strauss has taken over for the current one-dayers against Sri Lanka, but although he is still contributing his fair share of runs, he does not look the batsman who marked his Test debut with an assured century against New Zealand two years ago.

VAUGHAN'S RECORD AS CAPTAIN
Michael Vaughan with the Ashes
33 TESTS
19 wins, 6 defeats, 8 draws
10 SERIES
7 wins, 2 defeats, 1 draw

Marcus Trescothick hinted earlier this week that he might be prepared to give the captaincy another go, if asked.

Whoever is appointed for the forthcoming series against Pakistan, England can no longer afford the luxury of taking the view, as Flintoff did in India, that the new incumbent is merely keeping Vaughan's seat warm.

He must take the hard-nosed view that Vaughan won't be available for Australia and adjust mentally to acting like a full-time skipper, not a stop-gap.

It will be no easy task, primarily because of the catalogue of injuries which have disrupted the team over the past few months.

Pace bowler Simon Jones refuses to give up on his Ashes dream following an operation on his left knee.

ECB medical officer Dr Peter Gregory, however, believes it is "very unlikely" Jones will be fit enough to add to the 18 wickets he took in four Tests against the Aussies last summer.

Ashley Giles, meanwhile, faces another lengthy period of rehabilitation following more surgery on his hip and batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood have both been affected by niggling injuries in recent weeks.

It's the same story among fringe players with James Anderson (stress fracture in his back), Ed Joyce (ankle ligaments), Ian Blackwell (shoulder), Glen Chapple (abdominal strain) all currently out of action.

At this stage, it is impossible to predict which England XI will take the field in Brisbane on 23 November.

One thing is certain, the selectors and coach Duncan Fletcher need a change of luck - and soon.



SEE ALSO
Fletcher resists rushing Vaughan
19 Jun 06 |  England
Boycott fear over Vaughan future
22 May 06 |  England
Vaughan hints at ODI retirement
13 Apr 06 |  England
Vaughan and Jones returning home
27 Feb 06 |  England


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