Captaincy debate

The selectors are clearly worried aboutputting too big a burden round Flintoff's burly neckand will probably be happier with Strauss in chargefor the Australian tour, writes TED CORBETT.

August 7 — How do England manage to lose so many Ashes-winning stars through injury and still produce fresh, younger players to replace Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones only a year after that mother of all series? Is the success against Pakistan due to the influence of Andrew Strauss, the third captain in four series? Is it confidence born a year ago? Does the fact that Duncan Fletcher, the coach, agrees to play Chris Read instead of Geraint Jones show that the other two selectors — David Graveney, chairman, and his co-selector Geoff Miller — use their superior voting power? Does Fletcher's change of heart about Monty Panesar, who he now calls the best orthodox spin bowler in the world, mean he follows public opinion; or is he right to be cautious? Let us look closely at the men who force victory in Manchester and Leeds to see what they offer England in the future.

August 8 — The best way to evaluate Monty Panesar is to compare him with the best — Shane Warne, the top bowler of the 20th century according to Wisden and the best anyone can imagine whatever figures the old guy returns. When Panesar collects six wickets at Headingley that is four more than the aggregate from every other England spinner in the last 10 years. Good stuff then but Mike Atherton and Ashley Giles are not the greatest spin bowlers of all time and Warne is. Still, I will bet Warne is not waking up each morning and thinking: "I really wish I was bowling at Leeds today." His full first-class analysis from five matches at that ground reads: 199-4-500-12. In three Tests Warne has 119.2-36-268-3; average 89.33. In all five matches there since 1993 he records five ducks. So take a bow Monty. Your 10 runs in the third Test prove you are a better batsman than Warne. This Test is Panesar's first outing at the Leeds ground and he takes six for 166 at 27.66 in 65.3 overs. Better than Warne? We'll have the chance to make a closer comparison this autumn. Wilfred Rhodes, in the 19th century, Hedley Verity in the 1930s, Johnny Wardle in the 1954-5 series and Derek Underwood in the second half of the 20th century are among the few England slow left-arm bowlers to take wickets Down Under and Australian state sides rarely use them because they take so much stick. So can Panesar succeed where so many others fail? The next time you watch note how rarely the batsman is able to cut him. That alone deserves a huge merit mark. Panesar is already favourite for the BBC Sportsman of the Year award. Let us hope he has to receive it at breakfast time in Perth when the programme goes out next December.

August 9 — The debate already begins on the captaincy for the Australian tour: Andrew Strauss or Andrew Flintoff. I think it is a no-brainer. Flintoff is still not ready to play again after the operation on his ankle, he may not be fit for the first Ashes Test — even though the selectors pick him in the provisional 30 for the ICC Trophy a month earlier. So Strauss will be in charge for the fourth Test against Pakistan, the one-dayers between England and Pakistan and the ICC Trophy. Why will he not lead England in Australia? The selectors are clearly worried about putting too big a burden round Flintoff's burly neck and will probably be happier with Strauss in charge. Is he good enough? I'm not sure. He did not find a special way through the batsmen's guards at Headingley but he is still new to the job and once again we will have to wait. After watching Bob Willis, David Gower, Mike Gatting, Graham Gooch, Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss at press conferences in the last 25 years I put him among the lower order batsmen and certainly below Gower, Gatting, Stewart and Hussain simply because it is clear he finds each question a surprise. But it is early days and Strauss may surprise us.

August 10 — Sajid Mahmood bowls almost casually at 90 miles an hour, pitches the ball up and gets ordinary swing and reverse swing. He enjoys the acclaim even though he is reluctant to lead England off when they win. But does one performance turn him into the next Simon Jones? It may do. His improvement from Old Trafford where he bowls only five good balls — the first five of his first spell — to the second innings at Headingley is astonishing. If he comes in to bowl after Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Flintoff, one or two batsmen will have to be light on their feet to stop his thunderbolts.

August 11 — Channel Five presenter Mark Nicholas, a man with many habits which have their beginnings in the acting profession, is trying to put together a piece to camera for the start of the evening show but he is constantly interrupted by a crowd of small boys chanting "Mark Nicholas is the next James Bond." Now there is a thought.

August 12 — I will do almost anything to miss the finals of the Twenty20 competition because the first semi-final begins before noon and the final finishes close to midnight so I head off to the Indian High Commission in London to meet the young women of the England and Indian Test sides who are about to play their first match at Lord's. That makes for an enjoyable trip and after we all get lost in the area round the home of the late Princess Diana — where each house costs a Lottery win — I am given a lift in the Indian coach, my first in the these days of press and player segregation for nearly 25 years. In some ways I regret missing the finals because Stuart Broad, 20, already 6ft 6in and expected to top 6ft 8in, shows that not only can he produce deliveries of 88 miles an hour but vary length, speed and line at will. Here is a serious find, not just for the England selectors but for the Cricket Writers' Club, about to vote him Young Cricketer of the Year.

August 13 — In my youth we play a strange game by the name of French cricket in which a batsman defends his legs with a bat but cannot move his feet. And of course the first tour by an England team abroad ought to be to France, but the early news of the French Revolution makes the organisers call it off. Now the game is taking off again on the other side of the Channel where the players enjoy the game even though they admit they do not understand all of the subtleties. What they understand very clearly is that they can order the best, very best equipment and drink to success in the best champagne because one Mick Jagger, a cricket fan before he is a rock musician, is their sponsor.