Vaughan praises level-headed Strauss
Michael Vaughan was content - but far from satisfied - as he reflected on England's seven-wicket victory at Port Elizabeth in the opening Test of their South African tour. A hard taskmaster at the best of times, Vaughan warned that his side's performance had been "shoddy" in places, but set his sights on taking a 2-0 lead in the series by the time the Durban Test is over and done with next week.
"We're an honest team," Vaughan told reporters after the match, "and we accept that we didn't play to our potential in this match. South Africa should have been there for the taking after Day Two, but we didn't nail them as we should have. We've been unbeaten all year, so it would be nice to go to Durban and perform to the standard that we've set throughout the year."
Vaughan continued: "It's been a common theme with England teams for years, that when we get on top in a match - and at 20 runs ahead with four wickets down, we were definitely in command - we've often allowed the opposition back into the game. In the end, an 88-run lead was pretty good, thanks to the tail, but we should have been looking at 150 to 200 runs ahead. Then it would have been game, set and match."
But it isn't just hair shirts that hang in Vaughan's wardrobe, and he was quick to single out the performances of Andrew Strauss and Simon Jones for special praise. "Strauss is a level-headed kind of guy and his attitude is spot on," said Vaughan of England's Man of the Match, who sealed the run-chase with an unbeaten 94 this morning. "He never gets too high about his successes, nor too low about his failures. Technically he's pretty good, but more importantly, the mental side of his game is excellent. He's going to be a good player for us for many years if he keeps working as he is."
For the first three days of the match England were in front, but far from dominant, and it took an inspirational catch by Jones at fine leg to remove South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, and spur the side to greater deeds. "All credit to Simon for his catch and his spell of bowling," said Vaughan. "When Smith and [Jacques] Kallis got in there was a period when South Africa might have got on top, but his outstanding efforts changed the game.
"Simon's a huge threat with old ball," he explained. "He gets reverse-swing into the right-handers, and the ball that dismissed Kallis was a beauty. He's shown an outstanding attitude since arriving in Zimbabwe, where he worked with Troy Cooley [the bowling coach], and he fully deserved his rewards yesterday."
In the end, there was not a huge amount to choose between the team's performances, but the key difference was England's additional experience. Vaughan was especially satisfied by the manner in which his bowlers had exploited the frailties of South Africa's middle order. "Even on the first day when [Jacques] Rudolph and [Boeta] Dippenaar got in, we never allowed them to get away. Ashley Giles bowled a crucial spell while our seamers rotated from the top end, and then in the second innings, once Smith had gone, we opened the door to attack their inexperience.
"Leading into the game, we were under a lot of pressure," admitted Vaughan, after England's record of seven straight wins had been punctuated by the defeat against South Africa A at Potchefstroom. "For us, the first day was crucial, especially after losing the toss. All we wanted was a good performance to put South Africa on the back foot, and at 270 for 7 we got that, despite a gusty wind that made bowling very hard."
Ultimately Vaughan could have few complaints about his team's performance, but he urged his players to push their expectations to the limit. "On an individual basis, we need to set targets for big, big scores. Even Strauss in the first innings, if he's honest, he'd have wanted a score of 180 to 200, and likewise [Mark] Butcher should have been aiming at 150, rather than 79. You can't take the mick in this game, as it has a knack of coming back and giving you some funny answers.
"The best thing is that we haven't played to the standards we've set ourselves, but we're still 1-0 up," concluded Vaughan. "In fact, for periods here we were quite shoddy. South Africa are a good side and they are sure to come back strongly, but we're up for the challenge. They'll want to hit us hard at Durban, but we'll keep ourselves honest, and keep up the pressure."
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.