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AOC’s Most Loved Cricketers: No.26 Michael Vaughan

If Nasser Hussain’s captaincy gave English cricket back its self-respect, then Michael Vaughan’s propelled it back into the big time. Taking over the reins from Nasser, Vaughan – in conjunction with coach Duncan Fletcher – turned England into a fitter, leaner, meaner team built around a formidable pace attack, led them to 26 Test wins and masterminded their victory in arguably the greatest series in the history of the game, the epic 2005 Ashes.

But while Vaughan’s captaincy – all canny field placings and shrewd man-management – is rightly lauded, it shouldn’t be forgotten that in his pomp, before a string of knee injuries took their toll on his mobility at the crease, Vaughan was one of the most stylish batsman England has ever produced – a man whose cover drive and trademark one-footed swivel pull could make any self-respecting cricket lovers weak at the knees. His most prolific year came in 2002 when, buoyed by a slight change in trigger movement, he put the attacks of Sri Lanka, India and Australia to the sword and moved the Wisden Almanack to name him as one of their Cricketers of the Year. Read on to hear how the man who would end the Three Lions’ 18-year wait for an Ashes victory proved he belonged on the international stage.

Michael Vaughan – Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2003

Michael Vaughan began 2002 keenly aware of the impatience for him to prove his worth as a Test batsman. If it emanated less from the England management than from the media, nonetheless the time was nigh for Vaughan to establish himself as a senior player and a worthy opening partner for Marcus Trescothick. Such was his response that, by the year’s end, he was not just established but had become England’s most accomplished performer since the heydays of Gooch and Gower.

The transformation was striking enough in the scorebook. In 13 Tests up to the end of 2001, he had scored 679 runs at 33.95, respectable enough without being particularly eye-catching; in 2002 – in one Test more – he stacked up 1,481 runs at 61.70, with six centuries (and another in 2003 during the final Ashes Test at Sydney) for good measure. He was Test cricket’s leading run-getter in 2002, an impressive feat, if not the most meaningful one in England, where the cricketing year – like the financial – traditionally begins in April. Even more impressive was the style in which he made his runs. He had always been technically sound, but a reflective, somewhat pottering, even stressful air in his formative years encouraged some to harbour suspicions that he would be overpowered by attacks of the highest class. He has answered these doubts in wonderfully emphatic style. In 2002, cricket grounds in England and Australia resounded to a new Michael Vaughan, a batsman more confident in his method and much more forceful in his strokeplay. Deliveries that were once sneaked into the covers now pummelled the boundary boards. Short balls, and some not very short, were pulled and hooked in a manner that must have surprised even Vaughan himself. By the end of the year, his habit of touching the peak of his helmet, like a classical batsman of old respectfully touching the peak of his cap, had become a familiar sight. Throughout, he played with a dignity that signalled him a player of true worth.

Earlier in the year, Trescothick had been the England batsman attracting the plaudits. Vaughan remained on the fringe of the team after a lengthy apprenticeship in which he had always been thereabouts but not always there. Although he had made one Test century, against Pakistan in 2001, and had contributed crucial runs to two low-scoring victories over the West Indies in 2000, he had also attracted more than his share of injuries and other mishaps, culminating in being given out handled ball in a Test match in India. Yet by the end of the English summer, Vaughan’s four Test hundreds against Sri Lanka and India invited hopes that his opening partnership with Trescothick could be the springboard of a serious Ashes challenge. When an injury-ravaged England lost the ensuing series 4-1, Trescothick, who performed moderately, had been eclipsed; Vaughan was looking like the batsman around whom England could build for the next decade.

Yorkshiremen were quick to hail Vaughan as one of their own, although had the ancient tradition of fielding only players born within the county boundary been maintained a few years longer, he might easily have been representing the old foe: Lancashire. Michael Paul Vaughan was born at Salford’s Hope Hospital on October 29, 1974, and lived in Manchester until the age of nine when his family moved to Sheffield. Encouraged by his elder brother, he began netting at the Yorkshire League club Sheffield Collegiate under the guidance of their junior coach Jack Bethel. Yorkshire age group cricket quickly followed. It was while he was hitting a ball on the outfield at Abbeydale Park, during the interval of a county match, that Yorkshire’s coach – the taciturn, gentle Doug Padgett – was stirred to put down his cup of tea on the pavilion balcony and wander on to the field to jot down his name. When Padgett heard that Vaughan had been born in Lancashire he could barely conceal his dismay, but Yorkshire’s junior ranks were relatively enlightened and Vaughan was repeatedly assured that the home grown-only policy would soon be relaxed to encompass players raised within the county. So it did, although not before he had been invited to nets at both Lancashire and Northamptonshire (a perpetual scavenger of unwanted Yorkshire talent).

Vaughan’s presence in the Yorkshire side was never likely to bring protests. Polite and eager to learn, he won over even the crabbiest defenders of a faith that seemed even more outdated once Headingley’s doors had been flung open to overseas players. He proved adept, as he remains to this day, at filtering advice from many sources. From Martyn Moxon he understood something of the opening batsman’s art. From David Byas came the value of discipline. He watched Michael Bevan – who had two seasons with Yorkshire – and marvelled at his ability to pace an innings with such calm.

An upbringing on Headingley’s inconsistent pitches is not easy, even for a batsman of high pedigree. Vaughan does not cavil at suggestions that it slowed his entry into the England side. But equally he credits life at Headingley with toughening him mentally, teaching him with every rogue ball and waspish comment from the crowd that cricket did not bestow its favours easily.

That only made him work harder. He takes his profession seriously, if not himself. He respects the game, but he is a level-headed young man who keeps life in perspective and does not overreact to reward or failure. His head was not turned by winning the Daily Telegraph Under 15 Cricketer of the Year award in 1990, nor by becoming England under 19 captain four years later, in preference to Trescothick. When he faced his first ball in Tests, at Johannesburg in 1999, England were 2-4. Vaughan kept his cool and stayed in for two hours to make a composed 33.

He has always regarded his batting as a matter of trial and error, trying things to see if they work, discarding them quietly and without fuss if they do not. By the end of the Ashes series even the Australians, not given to over-praising English cricketers, were speaking of him with undiluted respect. As the runs finally flowed, Vaughan kept telling the media, and himself, that the real test would come when they dried up. He will survive all this adulation without too much bother.

His early England innings were introspective affairs. Another Yorkshire Australian, Darren Lehmann, advised him to quicken his running between the wickets, to run in Tests as he would in one-day cricket. Vaughan credits something so simple with perking up his entire game. He felt more confident; his feet moved faster, his mind was more aware of runscoring possibilities.

Vaughan cuts Stuart MacGill away for four during the 2002/03 AshesVaughan, in superlative touch, cuts Stuart MacGill away for four during the 2002/03 Ashes

Going into the England side at No.4, and moving down the order before he went up it, he regards as having a beneficial effect rather than something that added to his uncertainty. He believes it made him a more adaptable player, as did his increasing opportunities in the one-day game. To Duncan Fletcher, whose stint as coach began with that same torrid Test in Johannesburg, he gives the warmest praise of all. “He does not just grab your technique and try to change it. He will watch and watch and eventually volunteer something for you to consider. He might even spot a blemish in your game when you are about 120 not out. Not many coaches do that.” Not many batsmen give the coach five opportunities to do it in eight Tests.

Early in 2002, in New Zealand, Vaughan opened for England for the first time and unveiled his new liberated persona, twice racing into the 20s in as many balls. He felt he was playing well, but the ball zipped around on seaming pitches and the runs did not quite come. By the time Sri Lanka arrived at Lord’s in May, Vaughan was not in great form. He was out hooking for a dogged 64 and guiltily apologised to his teammates as England followed on. But his first-innings graft had got him back into form and a hundred in the second saved the match, turned the series and began the sequence that changed his life.

Lord’s seemed to inspire him: another hundred followed against India. A duck in the first innings, when he was defeated by a big nip-backer from the left-armer Zaheer Khan, nudged him into a subtle shift in technique, to prevent his front foot getting too far across, and the rewards were gratifying. His 197 at Trent Bridge was celebratory: warm summer’s day, flat pitch, large Saturday crowd and “one of those days when everything was coming down like a beach ball.” He was in such command that he scored 99 between lunch and tea.

The final Test of the summer, at The Oval, brought more sober satisfaction. England were weakening as the series went on and needed a draw to share the spoils. Vaughan steadied them by batting with great deliberation throughout a day’s play – another ambition achieved, another hundred to add to the list. And the sobriety was relative: he made 182 in the day, scoring at a rate that only Trescothick could match, and dealt so commandingly with Anil Kumble’s top-spinners and leg breaks that Rahul Dravid, of all people, asked his advice on how to play spin.

A knee operation and a rest while England went to Sri Lanka for the ICC Champions Trophy ensured he was fitter than most for the start of the Ashes. He needed to be, as Glenn McGrath paid him the compliment of making him his No.1 target. The first impression Vaughan made on the series was to drop two catches at Brisbane, a persistent and puzzling frailty, but a breezy 33 off only 36 balls announced that he was not cowed by facing an Australian attack for the first time in Tests. Two weeks later at Adelaide, a resplendent hundred proved that unlike many good batsmen, including his predecessor Mike Atherton, Vaughan had it in him to see off McGrath and flourish against the rest of Australia’s arsenal. To get out in the last over of the day frustrated him as much as it did England’s travelling band of supporters, who knew in their hearts, as they applauded him into the pavilion, that another defeat was on the cards.

His run of injuries continued with a broken bone in his shoulder to go with the still-mending knee, but by now he was in good enough form to shrug them off. Back-to-back hundreds over Christmas and New Year, in Melbourne and Sydney, completed a wonderful series – 633 runs in five Tests, joining Brian Lara (546 in four) and VVS Laxman (503 in three) as the only men to have taken 500 in a series off Australia in Steve Waugh’s time as captain. To Vaughan – not one of the victors – went the spoils of the Player of the Series award, which prompted an Anglo-Aussie debate over whether he or Matthew Hayden should rightly be regarded as the No.1 opener in the world.

By the World Cup, he had joined England’s management committee, alongside Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart and Trescothick. He will probably captain England, although one hopes not too soon, because England’s main requirement of Michael Vaughan at the moment is a mountain of runs. The responsibility is an onerous one, but he is equipped for the task.

© John Wisden & Co

First published in 1864, The Wisden Almanack is still recognised throughout the cricket world as the definitive recorder of the game. Click here to buy the 2012 edition of the Wisden Almanack.

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