Vol. 5 Num 1072 Thu. June 07, 2007  

Flintoff row in forefront
Third England-Windies begins today

England coach Peter Moores is facing the first major test of his man-management skills just days before the third Test against the West Indies here at Old Trafford.

Despite him scoring a century during England's record-breaking innings and 283 run win last time out, the hosts' camp is reeling following captain Michael Vaughan's public criticism of popular all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.

Vaughan, who has recently made a triumphant return to Test cricket after 18 months out injured, reignited the row regarding Flintoff's late night drinking exploits during the World Cup in a newspaper report Tuesday.

Flintoff was stripped of the vice-captaincy and dropped for one game after staying out late drinking and ending up in a pedalo in the early hours of the following morning after England's opening game defeat against New Zealand in St Lucia in March, which set them on the road to elimination before the semifinals.

"I like to see players enjoy themselves but no one would dare go out after that incident -- and you can't create any spirit then," Vaughan -- who will set a new record for an England captain of 21 Test victories if his team win in Manchester, told Tuesday's Guardian newspaper

Vaughan's latest remarks are unlikely to be different to anything he has already told Flintoff, managed by the same agent, face-to-face. Still, this is something England could have done without.

Flintoff last week had a third operation on his troublesome left ankle in as many years, and -- as has been the case throughout this series -- will again be sidelined.

It goes without saying that any risk to team morale should be reduced. And this match is taking place in front of Flintoff's adoring Lancashire public, which could be interesting for Vaughan.

Victory for England would see them go an unbeatable 2-0 up in the four-match series with one to play and they are set to field an unchanged side.

Last year at Old Trafford, Stephen Harmison and spinner Monty Panesar were both in the wickets during England's innings victory over Pakistan, Harmison taking 11 for 76 in the match. With the pitch expected to be both bouncy and receptive to spin, England will hope for more of the same.

But while Panesar has gone from strength to strength, Harmison's form has slumped. The decision to employ South Africa pace great Allan Donald as a consultant could help spark a revival in his fortunes.

Meanwhile left-arm quick Ryan Sidebottom, who celebrated his second Test appearance six years after his first by taking eight for 86 at Headingley, will try to continue to be a steadying influence.

England's batsmen have cashed in to the tune of seven centuries in two Tests against the weakest West Indies side in living memory.

All that is except opener Andrew Strauss, who has now gone 15 Test innings without a hundred during which time he's has averaged less than 28. He won't want to try the selectors' patience for much longer.

Vaughan scored a century at his Headingley home ground last time out, when England handed the West Indies' their heaviest Test innings loss.

Such has been their decline they haven't won or drawn a series away against any country other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe for 10 years. Before that they had not lost one for 15.

At Old Trafford they saw captain Ramnaresh Sarwan, leading the side in place of the retired Brian Lara, Test cricket's leading run-scorer, sustain a tour-ending shoulder injury.

On the plus side, new skipper Daren Ganga should be able to welcome back senior batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul from a knee problem.

West Indies, who could liven up their attack by recalling Fidel Edwards, have a doubt over opening batsman's Chris Gayle's ability to bowl off-spin.

Gayle faces a fitness Test on a side injury Wednesday and if he doesn't come through fellow off-spinner Marlon Samuels, likewise primarily a batsman, could come in just days after being called up as Sarwan's replacement.

West Indies coach David Moore said of Gayle: "If he can't bowl then we will obviously have to make some adjustments.

"We certainly want to try to get the balance of the side right and it looks to me like it might turn out there. We would like to have some sort of spinning option, that's for sure."

Turning to Chanderpaul, the Australian added: "Any time we play without Shiv he's a massive loss for us because he is such a talented cricketer and the only one of our batters who averages over 40 in Test match cricket.

England captain Michael Vaughan practises catching during a training session at Old Trafford in Manchester on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP