Ashes July 1, 2009

RIP Michael Vaughan’s Cricket Career

Obituary: Michael Vaughan’s Cricket Career (1993-2009)

Obituary: Michael Vaughan’s Cricket Career (1993-2009). Passed away peacefully in its sleep, aged 16, after a long decline. Will be extremely fondly remembered by all who knew it.

Farewell, then, Michael Vaughan’s Cricket Career. Never again will the cricket world delight in a cover drive that seemed to have been plucked and polished from a 1900s coaching manual entitled “How To Score Runs In An Honourable Manner”.

It had seemed that the script was written for Vaughan to make an emotional comeback to the England team for the Lord’s Test after Andrew Strauss slipped a disc trying to hit Nathan Hauritz for a sixth consecutive six on the way to defeat in Cardiff, then leading England to their first head-quarters Ashes win for 75 years with a sensational unbeaten double hundred, and concluding the summer by clinching the Ashes on the final afternoon of the series with a spell of 8 for 23 on a turning wicket, before leaving the ground in a special hot air balloon, shouting through a loud hailer, “There, I told you I’d still got it.”

Unfortunately, that script was read, rejected and recycled by the commissioning editors of cricket, who plumped instead for something disappointingly more mundane – a slow fade-out in the relative obscurity of county cricket, followed by a low-key press conference with Hugh Morris.

Injuries have perhaps denied him a late blossoming – by the time Graham Gooch was a year older than Vaughan is now, he had scored only 8 of his eventual 20 Test hundreds. But the press conference gave further proof that Vaughan has made the right decision – the shocking revelation that his small son had joined the list of Unlikely People To Have Dismissed Michael Vaughan, alongside Ricky Ponting, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Daan van Bunge (although whether Vaughan junior can replicate that level of performance in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of international cricket, rather than the gentle surrounding of the back garden, remains to be seen).

I have followed Vaughan’s fluctuating career with particular interest. We were born in the same month, and have much else in common besides – neither of us had played a Test match by the age of 25, we were both at some point schoolboys, we both list breakfast amongst our top four favourite meals of the day (I assume), we were both best as opening batsmen, neither of us is quite as mobile as we once were, we both like cricket, we can both be backed at 10,000-1 to win a Nobel Prize for Physics, and he got as many laughs as I did during a gig at the Rawhide Comedy Club in Liverpool in 2002 (although he at least had the excuse of not being on the bill due to his prior commitment to smashing Australia to all parts in that winter’s Ashes; I, by contrast, would have been able to hear my own footsteps as I left the stage, were they not being drowned out by the footsteps of the audience leaving the venue).

Having lived these almost parallel lives, it seems appropriate, in solidarity with my exact contemporary, the most significant England cricketer of our generation, and the man who, more than any other, stood in the way of my own dreams of becoming England captain, that I today also announce my retirement from all forms of professional cricket. Not that there were not a few million others also standing in the way – but Vaughan was the biggest obstacle of all, with his innovative, positive and record-breaking leadership.

He deserved a more fitting exit than this. Other recent former England captains have been more fortunate. His predecessor Nasser Hussain stepped off the international stage at Lord’s in 2004 exactly the way he would have wanted to go – scoring a match-winning hundred and running out one of his team mates.

Alec Stewart was applauded around the Oval the previous year after what seemed like an unbroken 5-day Barmy Army farewell serenade. Having spent two days at that game in close proximity to some of the top Barmy regiments, I have it indelibly inscribed upon my soul that there is, incontrovertibly, “only one Alec Stewart”.

Mike Atherton had exited the same arena in 2001 to the resounding applause of a grateful public willing to overlook the scorebook entry of “c Team Nemesis b Individual Nemesis 9” (or “c Warne b McGrath 9” as Wisden insisted on recording it) in recognition of his years of noble resistance.

Vaughan was one of England’s most stylish batsmen of all time, one of its greatest captains, dropper of some of its easiest catches, and bowler of probably the single greatest off-break in English cricket since the days of Laker, when he bowled a fully-firing Tendulkar for 92 at Trent Bridge in 2002, for one of his six career wickets. If he did not prove to be the great batsman he appeared to have become in 2002, he is unquestionably an English cricket great, and will be missed by all cricket supporters.

Apologies for my unscheduled absence for the last couple of weeks. Hear my thoughts on Pakistan’s magnificent victory in the World Twenty20 in the Zaltzman Report audio show. I hope you have enjoyed the audio (whether you have listened to it or not) (although clearly listening to it is (hopefully) more likely to cause you to enjoy it).

I will return with more later in the year. During the Ashes, I will be hosting a comedy show called ‘Yes, It’s The Ashes’, at 11am on Saturday mornings on BBC Radio 5 Live, starting this Saturday. It will also be available via the BBC website. I will also regularly updating The Confectionery Stall as often as work, fate and wife allow.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer