August 26, 2003

Vaughan under the cosh

Needlessly coming off for bad light, their failure to finish off South Africa when they were down, their woeful bowling and careless batting ... the list of England's disasters in the Headingley Test goes on and on. But the one man who has been on the wrong end of today's press is Michael Vaughan, whose honeymoon - if he ever had one - is now well and truly over.

If Vaughan is starting to wonder why he took the job, then so apparently are some of the national newspapers. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in The Times, said "Michael Vaughan is, as yet, a naive captain. After the match he was drawn into repeating the tired clich├ęs about the excess of county cricket, its lack of competitiveness and, the latest addition to the lexicon of excuses, the 'fear factor'. CMJ admitted that the excuses may be true, but said, "there has been a sight too much philosophising by England's captains and coaches in recent seasons."

Angus Fraser agrees in The Independent. "It has not taken long, three Test matches to be precise, for Michael Vaughan to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and blame the shortcomings of his England side on the domestic game". Fraser admits county cricket is far from perfect, but says it can't be blamed for inconsistent batting and bowling, and that the England team should not ridicule it so openly: "Absolutely nothing is gained from sitting on your backside for a week and playing on a Playstation."

So Vaughan needs to philosophise less, and according to most, needs to be more ruthless - like his opposite number, Graeme Smith. Pat Gibson of The Times was one of many who threw doubts on Vaughan's relaxed style of leadership: "It is about time that someone spelt out the way of the world to England's cricketers in the same way that Graeme Smith spells it out to his South Africa players, but it is not going to be Michael Vaughan."

James Lawton in The Independent was more succinct on Vaughan's shortcomings. He said "England at Headingley were a leaderless rabble of quite shaming proportion," and that Vaughan "looked a broken man". He added: "[Ray] Illingworth's point that Vaughan might not have the force of personality to pull off such a huge challenge was perhaps, on reflection, not the aside of an irredeemable curmudgeon but a genuine insight of someone who indeed knew what he was talking about."

But Vaughan didn't take all the flak. Mike Selvey in The Guardian had a word or two for Vaughan's out-of-touch opening partner, Marcus Trescothick. "The time may be approaching ... when the selectors have to decide quite how sacrosanct is the opening partnership." Selvey insisted that the way Trescothick has repeatedly been caught in the slips "smacks of ill discipline rather than a technical shortcoming". And Selvey doesn't stop there. He goes on to argue that Trescothick's recent poor run demonstrates he is not out of nick but that he has been worked out, with "bowlers understanding that he appears to lack patience or judgment outside off stump," and that "he gets bored". Trescothick, who has copped most of the blame for England's bad-light walkoff, certainly won't have been bored by the papers over the last couple of days.

The Sun and The Mirror, as you'd expect, didn't waste their words. "You're a load of softies," ran the Sun's headline, while Mike Walters of the Mirror grumbled, "a fitting finale to a witless defeat which was enough to make you scream."

Meanwhile Cape Argus, a South African newspaper, as well as pointing out England's obvious mistakes, identified the return of Jacques Kallis as a major factor in South Africa's win. "Nobody has ever doubted Kallis's ability as batsman and fielder, but he has not bowled the way he did in this match since the 2001 series against the West Indies."

So what now for Vaughan and England? Well, it's not going to be easy, according to Mike Selvey in The Guardian: "Vaughan, who looked increasingly lost as the match wore on, will have his work cut out if the damage inflicted by a side that was almost in the morgue on the first day is not to prove irreparable." Who'd be an England captain?