The Ashes 2009 June 30, 2009

Pietersen lauds Vaughan's timing

As Michael Vaughan, a major pillar of England's 2005 Ashes success, calls time on his career, the current group of players hoping to replicate his feat of four years ago have been quick to laud his contribution.

"Michael Vaughan was huge to me," said Kevin Pietersen. "He is a great leader of men and you learn a lot from guys like him. A lot of the senior players still communicate with him on a friendly basis."

On the timing of his announcement, Pietersen was effusive in his praise. "It shows the great man he is," he said. "He always knew the right time to do anything. To let Straussy know that he can continue leading the team and let Ravi [Bopara] know he can continue at No. 3, the timing is brilliant."

Pietersen, who made his Test debut in the 2005 Ashes, and last year took over the captaincy (albeit briefly), still remembers the advice Vaughan handed out during a daunting ODI against South Africa at Johannesburg the previous winter.

"I remember one of the first things he said to me - coming in at The Wanderers to play South Africa in that huge series when 60,000 people were looking as if they were going to kill me. He walked up to me in the middle of the wicket and said 'The ball is white; the ball is round, you know what you've done to get here, just watch it as hard as you can'.

"To be honest, that calmed me right down, from being a gibbering wreck walking on to that field to the player that I am now because that's all I do now. I just watch the ball. That's why when people say in series where the opposition is right at you I normally succeed because all I do is watch the cricket ball. I don't think about any rubbish. I just watch the cricket ball."

Andrew Flintoff was Vaughan's key man during the 2005 Ashes, producing consistent match-winning performances for his captain. "So far I've played my best years of cricket under him," he said. "He gave confidence to the team, I can speak from experience on that one, and he is a mate as well."

Flintoff also followed Vaughan into the captaincy, beginning in India on the 2006 tour and ending with the Ashes whitewash the following winter, so he knows at first hand how tough the job is. "He has been England's best-ever captain statistically," he said. "He was unflappable. There could be mayhem going on around him but he always looked pretty poker-faced. He'll go down as a great of the English game."

Paul Collingwood, who succeeded Vaughan as England's one-day captain in 2007, said: "He was unique. I started off with Nasser [Hussain] who had a very different approach to what Vaughany had. They were both very good in their own ways. Nasser gave England exactly what they needed at the time, and that was discipline, whereas Vaughany came in and it was very much a relaxed atmosphere, a relaxed approach.

"There was a real calmness about him. Whenever you look at your captain in pressure situations and he has a smile on his face and is jovial about things, I really think it gives the rest of the players a calmness. He was just a really great bloke and a great team man, and that's what stands him out from other people I've played with."

Andrew Strauss said Vaughan's achievements could not be underestimated and that it was difficult to speak highly enough about what Vaughan achieved as England captain. "He really took England to a new level, and he showed a huge amount of loyalty in me personally, so I feel a lot of loyalty as a captain, and as a bloke and as a friend.

"The way he captained, the relaxed manner he was able to get us playing in, as well as a positive outlook on how to play cricket. A lot of the stuff was behind the scenes, you saw what happened out in the field but the way he dealt with players on a one-to-one basis was exceptional. He really cared about each and every one of us, and about the England team."

It is fitting that Vaughan made his final press conference at Edgbaston - the scene of two of his most vastly contrasting days as England captain. The ground brought one of his finest moments, when he outwardly kept his cool while churning inside as Australia were thwarted, two runs from victory, in 2005, and it also brought his lowest moment when he trudged off the field last year having been defeated by South Africa. It was his final Test as captain, and - as it turned out - his final Test.

Vaughan desperately wanted to be part of this summer's Ashes, but the body just wasn't willing. His final Test appearance against Australia will remain that Ashes-clinching match at The Oval four years ago. It's not a bad memory to have, but few would have imagined at the time that he would never have another crack at the Aussies.

Ricky Ponting, Australia's conquered captain in 2005, lauded Vaughan's batting and captaincy skillks. "I'm a bit surprised by his retirement, it was only a couple of months ago that I was thinking that he might have been named in the first Test squad, before Bopara came in and grabbed the opportunity with both hands," Ponting said.

"He was an exceptionally skilled and talented player, his record would stack up against most top-order batsmen who have played international cricket. He led the side very well whenever he had the opportunity, so I'm a bit surprised by it. From me and all the Australians, good luck to him. He was always a highly skilled performer."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo