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July 23, 2007
Michael Vaughan may have had all afternoon to diffuse his frustration, but even so, his demeanour at the close of the first Test at Lord's was not that of a man who felt he'd been robbed by the elements. There was a twinkle in his eye and a contented purr in his voice, as he sized up a Test match that - regardless of the result - constituted England's most uplifting week's work for many a long month.
"I'm really pleased with the way the team played throughout the five days," said Vaughan. "When it gets to an afternoon where they are nine-down, of course you are going to look back and wonder if you could have changed a few things. But it was a real good Test match played on a real good Test-match wicket. We didn't get that last wicket, but there are lots of positives to take out of the game. It's just nice to play in a game where we've bowled really, really well."
The aggression, enthusiasm and above all, variety, of England's four-prong attack had commentators from all quarters recounting the efforts of that famous band of brothers who wrested the Ashes back in 2005. There was Ryan Sidebottom, fulfilling the role of shop-floor steward that Matthew Hoggard once held for 40 consecutive Tests; there was Chris Tremlett - tall, attacking and every bit as awkward to negotiate as the endlessly ennervating Steve Harmison; there was a born-again James Anderson, swinging the ball both ways at pace in the mysterious manner that Simon Jones briefly perfected. And, of course, Monty Panesar, who has long since consigned Ashley Giles to a nostalgic corner of England's collective memory.
"You just look back to 2005 and that's the kind of performance we put in game after game," said Vaughan, who remembered all too well what happened when England were last denied at the last gasp in this manner. That summer at Old Trafford, Brett Lee negotiated the last ball of Steve Harmison's last over, and Australia swarmed off the pitch as if they'd secured a famous victory. England, briefly deflated, regrouped with renewed intensity and won the follow-up encounter ... at Trent Bridge no less.
"Friday's a new start," said Vaughan. "We'll have to make sure we reproduce the same kind of intensity that we showed here, the same enthusiasm and the same skill. You need skill to get good batsmen out, and that's exactly what the young bowlers showed this week. They didn't allow their batsmen to play as they liked, because they bowled well and extracted movement and bounce. We've done it once and now we have to try to do it again. We're just looking to get ahead of the game as quickly as we can and stay on top."
|With Vaughan back at the helm, and looking as bubbly as he did today, there seems no imminent prospect of England loosening their grip or losing their focus. Perhaps they've merely been waiting for a challenge that whets their appetite|
Not since England last played against India in March 2006 - when Andrew Flintoff's rookies won at Mumbai and Johnny Cash was the toast of the dressing-room - had any of their matches been infused with such a sense of optimism. That Test, however, proved to be the ultimate false dawn - Flintoff's captaincy credentials were left suspended through injury for most of the rest of the year, as Andrew Strauss was denied the chance to build a side in his own image, and lethargy coursed through the veins of his sated team-mates.
However, with Vaughan back at the helm, and looking as bubbly as he did today, there seems no imminent prospect of England loosening their grip or losing their focus. Perhaps they've merely been waiting for a challenge that whets their appetite. In England's stagnated mindset of 2006, Australia were simply over-awing, while one-day cricket remained under-rewarding - even in a World Cup year - and as for West Indies, they were a sadly emasculated shadow of their former selves. When Kevin Pietersen said at a sponsor's function last week that he was "exhausted", perhaps he really meant he was "bored".
Pietersen was immense once again in this Test. He showed patience in tricky conditions after playing - in his own words - "absymally" in the first innings, followed by the kind of acceleration in the latter stages that none but the best can live with; as is his wont, he needed just four balls to hurtle through the nerveless nineties. Pietersen's drive and determination is different from that of his team-mates - different, perhaps, from any cricketer in the world. He is fuelled by a relentless desire to be the best in the world. If victory comes as a convenient by-product of his efforts, then so much the better.
For all that it ended unsatisfactorily, Test cricket needed a match such as this - a genuine contest. Amid all the mismatches that have occurred in recent months, it seems a long old time since two sides had to extend themselves for the full five days of a contest. A belter of a wicket helped no doubt - Mick Hunt the groundsman was justifiably proud of his creation at the start of the match, and Vaughan was lavish in his praise of it afterwards. But for England's followers in particular, the enthusiasm for the fight was the most pleasing aspect. From Pietersen's prowess through Vaughan's will to win, and right down to the eager-beaver bowling from Anderson and his cohorts, there is a sense, at last, that the battle has been rejoined.
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