'Sitting out won't be easy for Strauss' - Vaughan
Michael Vaughan believes that Andrew Strauss's decision to take a break during England's tour of Bangladesh has been made in the best interests of the team's long-term development, but warns that Strauss will not find it easy being an onlooker while his stand-in, Alastair Cook, leads the team during his two-Test tenure at Mirpur and Chittagong in March.
Vaughan himself knows the frustrations of being a captain on the sidelines, after he was forced to miss 18 months of international cricket, including the last tour of Australia in 2006-07, due to a longstanding knee injury. He never voluntarily sat out of a Test match, however, and feels that while Strauss may return to the side refreshed from his three-month break, he'll struggle to achieve complete relaxation ahead of an arduous 18-month campaign that includes the 2010-11 Ashes and a World Cup campaign in the subcontinent.
"You have to look at the bigger picture, and beating Australia in Australia in eight or nine months' time is the bigger picture," Vaughan told Cricinfo. "But I don't know how Andrew Strauss will feel, sat at home somewhere, when his team is playing in Bangladesh. That will probably be the time that Andrew will start thinking: 'Should I be with them?'
"I would personally have felt uncomfortable watching someone else captain the England team while I was England captain," Vaughan added. "I'd have been on tenterhooks sitting at home thinking someone else was captaining my team, but that's just me. That's part of the job that I wanted to bring to the team. I wanted to do it in every single match that I could, apart from when I had a dodgy knee."
Instead the baton has been passed to Cook, who has been regarded as the heir apparent almost since the day he scored a century on debut in Nagpur in 2006. He now has the chance to stake his long-term credentials in a series that England are expected to win quite comfortably, and while Vaughan believes he's up to the job, he harbours slight reservations about the timing of the appointment, seeing as it comes so soon after Cook's return to form with the bat.
"It's an interesting one because I felt in South Africa he'd just worked out his game," said Vaughan. "I was really impressed with his movements at the crease, he's changed his trigger movements and is playing a lot straighter, and he is very, very solid on the front foot which is a really good sign. Hopefully he can take this as a two-game learning curve because not many young captains get that opportunity, to go and captain their country in a place like Bangladesh where there's an expectation to deliver a result.
"He'll know his team should beat Bangladesh 2-0, so it's a real good chance to get a feel for what the captaincy is like, and to wake up every morning knowing he's the captain for three or four weeks. We'll find more out about him, because this a progression plan for the future. It's now clear that whenever Strauss decides to step aside, Cook is next in line. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing at this stage to be branded like that, only time will tell."
Nevertheless, Vaughan is sympathetic to Strauss's need to recharge his batteries, particularly given how instrumental his personal contribution has been to the overall success of the England team. He inherited the side in the aftermath of the Pietersen-Moores affair, and watched as they touched rock-bottom in Jamaica last February, when they were bowled out for 51 to lose his first Test in charge by an innings. But the team bounced back to win the Ashes and achieve a creditable drawn Test series in South Africa.
"We've got to look at the schedules, and the schedules particularly in the next two years are more than any England captain has had to deal with," said Vaughan. "Strauss clearly feels he needs a break, he's a year into the job, and it's been a tough year. But being England captain is a tough job, and you have to expect that you're going to be a little bit more drained than you were as a player. It's more draining on the brain, because you are constantly thinking."
"England have a vision for what's going to happen in a few months' time and I think that's correct," he added. "But whatever happens, he'll still be quite tired when he gets to Australia. The summer is packed with international games, and he may well need another two- or three-week break late in the season, because we need a real fit and refreshed captain going Down Under. In fact, all of the guys will need breaks if we are to have a real good chance."
For the time being, however, only Strauss and James Anderson have been given the time off for the Bangladesh tour, and the Anderson decision was dictated by a long-standing knee problem. "It's not the aspect of playing two Tests that Strauss is taking a break from," said Vaughan. "It's the fact of being on tour. Touring as a captain is a lot harder than playing at home as a captain.
"You play a Test in England and you can go home for three days and switch off from the day-in-day-out management of the team. When you're on tour, you are there, doing it every single day, managing the players around breakfast, and in the dressing room, and on the coach. You do get that little bit of space on your own in the summer."
Five years ago, Vaughan was England's captain on their inaugural tour of Bangladesh, a trip on which he and Duncan Fletcher laid the ground rules for a squad that would go on to win six of its next seven Test series. "That was my first overseas tour as captain, and the first time I had a chance to put across my ideas," he recalled. "I felt we needed to be a lot fitter as a team, and we used the four weeks in Bangladesh really like a boot camp. We trained twice a day, played our games, and won."
However, Vaughan believed that there were few parallels between the side that he moulded on that trip, and the side that bade farewell to Strauss at Johannesburg airport last week. "I think this team has already bonded," he said. "It looks strong, and it's a lot further on from the side that I took to Bangladesh. They were drained towards the end of South Africa, but I like their energy and their zest, and the commitment they have shown towards one another over the last few months. They'll need all of that in Bangladesh."
Michael Vaughan is an ambassador for ASICS Smarter Cricket. For his knowledgeable training tips visit www.smartercricket.com
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo