On Tuesday 30th June it is widely expected that Michael Vaughan, arguably England’s greatest ever captain, will hold a press conference to confirm his retirement from First Class cricket after 16 years in the game.
Born in Manchester, Vaughan made his Yorkshire debut in 1993 and his England debut in 1999 when he came to the crease as England’s 600th Test Match player with the score at 2 for 2 against the South Africans and stood at the non strikers end while the score line became 2 for 4 before he faced his first ball. Vaughan stroked 33 in the calm and assured manner that was to become one of his trademarks.
Stylish, graceful and elegant, to see Michael Vaughan in full flow became one of the great pleasures of an English summer and to watch him drive through the covers or swivel onto a pull over mid wicket to see all that was good about English cricket. Vaughan would go on to play for England 82 times and score 5719 runs including 18 hundreds, with an average above 40. In his first class career he amassed over 16000 runs including 42 scores of one hundred or more.
For all that Vaughan did over the course of his career, however, he will be forever remembered for his two career defining performances in back to back Ashes Series, first as a batsman in 2002/2003 and then as a captain in 2005.
Vaughan travelled down under in 2002 on the back of a domestic summer which had yielded 900 runs in seven Test matches against Sri Lanka and India, including four hundreds with two scores of 190+ against India. I was at the Oval when Vaughan was dismissed for 195, following his score of 197 two Tests earlier, prompting a man close by to muse somewhat sarcastically, “Good player this Vaughan. Struggles in the 190s though.” This was tongue in cheek of course as by this stage the cricketing nation had taken Michael Vaughan to their hearts, due not only to the weight of runs he had scored, but the sumptuous strokeplay he had used to get them. It had been a long, long time since England had a batsman capable of dominating attacks and making it look so effortless in the process. Choruses of “Michael Vaughan my Lord, Michael Vaughan” to the tune of Kumbayah had already begun to ring round the Oval.
In the five Test Ashes Series that followed Vaughan scored over 600 runs including 3 centuries, propelling him to the top of the official World ranking during a spell where he “touched greatness” as a batsman. He was the first tourist to score over 600 runs against Australia in Australia for over 30 years, the first Englishman to score 3 centuries against them since Chris Broad and the first English to top the World rankings since Graeme Gooch. He left Australia as the sole player to have left his mark on the Australians, a fact that went a considerable way to securing his position as captain of the English one day side ahead of the vice captain Marcus Trescothick. A score of 153 against the South Africans cemented Vaughan’s place as test captain when Hussain stepped down in the following match.
Vaughan would go on to captain the England side in 51 Test Matches and win a record 26 making him, statistically, the most successful captain in English cricket history. Vaughan’s success owed much to the work of his predecessor Nasser Hussain and the measures he began to put in place along with Duncan Fletcher, centrals contacts being the most important. 2004 saw Vaughan lead an England side to an undefeated year including a record 8 straight wins, beating the West Indies in The Caribbean, winning all seven home Test Matches that summer and then beating South Africa away from home for the first time since 1965. This run of form catapulted England to number two in the ICC World rankings, setting up a 1st versus 2nd clash in the most eagerly anticipated series, perhaps, ever, the 2005 Ashes. And we all know how that ended, after a crushing defeat at Lords followed “The Greatest Test” at Edgbaston, probably the most famous draw in English cricket history at Old Trafford, a win at Trentbridge and the most important toss of Vaughan’s career at the Oval which allowed him to bat first and watch Kevin Pietersen bat the Aussies out of the game. MBE’s all round an OBE for Vaughan and the hope that he would continue to lead England into a previously unknown period of dominance.
However, that wasn’t to be as at the beginning of the Pakistan tour Vaughan twisted his knee in a warm up game. He recovered in time to play in the 2nd and 3rd Tests but was not the batsman we knew and flew home for surgery instead of staying on the the One Day Series. He flew to India after Christmas but was back on a plane to England before the 1st Test and wouldn’t play again until May 2007 when he returned to captain the side on his home ground Headingly and scored a composed 103 to the delight of all in the land. Mike Selvey of The Guardian described the innings as a “masterpiece”, and said “Vaughan came as close to perfection as ever he can have done.”
Sadly though this represented a false dawn. Vaughan continued in the side for another year or so, passing 5000 Test runs, winning a series away in New Zealand and notching up his 18th and final Test century in the return leg in England, but poor form in the 2nd half of the 2008 summer against South Africa resulted in an emotional resignation from the England captaincy after 5 years in charge. He has not played for England since and the omission from the 2009 Ashes squad sounded the death knell for Vaughan’s international career. His retirement from all first class cricket may seem a little extreme, but when you have touched the heights that Vaughan has during his career it must be impossible to motivate a 34 year old body with knackered knees to rejoin the county treadmill. Nasser Hussain believes that the timing of Vaughan’s announcement is perfect as it will allow new captain Strauss and new number three Bopara to settle into their roles with less pressure. Kevin Pietersen describes it as a typically selfless act from a great man who knew the right thing to do tactics-wise when he was captain, and when he batted, on numerous occasions.
Life after cricket should present Vaughan with no shortage of opportunities. Sky Sports will almost certainly come calling, a newspaper column would be essential reading even if only for the Ashes, he has his property, his wine and his golf which his knees should just about allow him to continue playing. Whatever he does in the future he will walk away from English cricket with his head held high and forever retain a special place in the hearts of English cricket fans across the country. We will all remember with fondness all that Vaughany brought to our game. Thanks for everything Michael, it’s been a pleasure.
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