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June 30, 2009
The voice nearly cracked as Michael Vaughan revealed how it was the moment he was bowled by his three-year-old son, Archie, that finally made him realise it was time to end his playing career. However, unlike the press conference when he stood down as England's captain last year, he just about managed to hold back the tears as he reflected on giving up his ambition of facing Australia one final time.
As Vaughan read his own statement the eyes welled up and he needed to clear his throat a few times. "It's been a hard decision. I don't want this to be déjà vu from nine months ago but you must understand it's been difficult," he said. "Two weeks ago in the garden with my little lad Archie he bowled a ball that hit a weed and knocked my off stump out. I think that was the time. If a three-year-old is bowling me out it's time to move on."
It is often said that sport doesn't produce many fairytale finishes and a conference room at Edgbaston is probably not how Vaughan had planned his exit. However, the dream of once again standing at The Oval with the Ashes urn has been a distant hope since he relinquished his place. "It was always going to be a long shot to get me back in," he admitted. "I've given it my best shot."
Now there is a chance that, as England are battling Australia at Cardiff next week, he could be acting as a golf caddy in Scotland as he waits to see what the future holds. "I haven't had any phonecalls, the phone is on," he said when asked about a likely role as a Sky commentator for the remainder of the summer. "I have been offered one job and that came from Lee Westwood to carry his bag at the Barclays Open next Thursday, so if no other calls come in I'll be up in Scotland at Loch Lomond."
His quest for a comeback never really gathered momentum. After taking time out to reflect on standing down from the captaincy after England's defeat to South Africa, at Edgbaston last August, he went away with the Academy squad to India but that trip was cut short by the Mumbai attacks before Vaughan had the chance of a game. That put paid to any chances of a West Indies tour, leaving him short of chances to prove his readiness for this summer.
A century in Abu Dhabi on Yorkshire's pre-season tour hinted that, maybe, the script-writers were at work but it was a teasing prologue that didn't deliver. And away from purely form issues, his body was creaking so severely that by the time the decision was made, he couldn't field for an entire day. The writing had been on the wall through the early stages of the season where he had failed to reach even a half-century in the Championship. For every swivel-pull or cover drive that offered a tantalising reminder at a glorious past, there was an uprooted stump or edge to the slips that told of a more sobering present.
"I had glimpses this summer of feeling on top of my game, I'd get a 30 or 40 then just get out. I don't know what it is that makes that happen," he said. "It was frustrating, I gave it everything I can but I just wasn't playing well enough. I was spending too much time in the gym trying to get onto the pitch - Scott McAllister [the Yorkshire physio] will have to take a pay cut because he's lost his best client - and I have to move on."
"The Ashes 16 [for the training squad] have to be the best 16 players in the country and I'm not one of them," he added. "Seven or eight months ago I was pondering whether to step down around December time, but wanted to give it one last hard effort to try and get into the Ashes squad and face Australia one more time.
"I've given it that shot, I haven't been playing well enough and my body hasn't been reacting the way I'd like it to. You have to move forward and hopefully this is a chance for the guys to go and recreate history. We can all forget 2005 now, that's irrelevant when it comes to this series."
And, perhaps most tellingly, Vaughan's on-field struggles had begun to affect him in the dressing room and he didn't want to hold back the promising youngsters in the Yorkshire squad. "Playing cricket has been my life for 16-17 years so to hand it over and not have the chance of playing again is a difficult one," he said. "But I know it's the right decision. I've always said your experienced players have to be the most enthusiastic and I was just starting to feel I wasn't passing that on in the Yorkshire dressing room."
Once Vaughan was left out of the initial Ashes squad there was really no way back, but that wouldn't have stopped the speculation had he managed to score runs for Yorkshire, especially if that had coincided with England struggling against Australia. Now, though, he can settle back and watch the Ashes contest unfold, which he admits would have been on his mind even if he was still playing for Yorkshire.
"I didn't want to be scoring runs and putting pressure on the team. I do think there are better players than me out there at this stage and they deserve to be given a chance. I also had this feeling of standing at mid-off at Scarborough or Headingley and my mind would be on watching the Ashes. You've got to be committed to whatever team you play for and I want to watch the Ashes."
Watching, and maybe noting a few things about the Aussies as well? Vaughan is in regular contact with senior England players and will only be too happy to offer his advice. "I'll certainly be on hand," he said. "I had an hour on the phone with Andrew [Strauss] this morning talking about a lot of things, but I haven't looked at the new Australian players. But Straussy knows we are good friends and any time during the series he wants to have a yarn the phone will always be on."
If this series shapes up anything like the one four years ago, don't be surprised if Strauss takes up that offer. Michael Vaughan may yet have an influence on another Ashes campaign.
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