Five months out from the start of the Ashes, the English
cricket team is in disarray. The one day team has just notched up its fourth
straight loss to the Sri Lankans, following the drawn Test series and a narrow
defeat in a Twenty20 game.

Sri Lanka have won their last six games against the English
(four ODIs, one Twenty20, one Test), and of the other three games contested,
two were draws, with the English winning only the second Test.

If you were the English Cricket Board, when would you hit
the panic button? Well, maybe when Michael Vaughan phones you from outside the
doctor’s surgery and says, “Um, you haven’t booked my ticket to Australia yet,
have you? Looks as thought I might not be joining you down there after all.”

As the BBC reports this morning, Vaughan is expected to undergo his fourth knee operation on
Monday, placing him in “major doubt” for the Ashes. If he opts for the career-prolonging
surgery over the quick fix, he could be out of the game for nine months.

Although Vaughan was not the chief destroyer during the last
Ashes series, at least not with the bat (eight innings, 270 runs, highest score
166), his captaincy was excellent and, maybe even more importantly, his
gamesmanship on and off the field at least rivalled Ricky Ponting’s.

His knee is not the only injury concern for the English.
Stand-in captain and Test cricketer of last year, Andrew Flintoff, is set to miss
the first Test against Pakistan (starting in a fortnight) with an ankle injury.
Spinner Ashley Giles has just undergone a second hip operation and is also
unavailable for the series, leaving the selectors with major holes to fill.

But the biggest hole facing the English may not be related
to personnel. The Pakistanis are expected to be a much tougher opposition than
the Sri Lankans. Big victories to the visitors could cause an almost
irretrievable loss of confidence for the English, something they can ill afford
against a vengeful, fully fit and well rested Australian outfit.

Peter Fray

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