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August 3, 2008
With Michael Vaughan resigning as England captain, Cricinfo looks back on his reign to pick out the highs and lows
Levelling the series in 2003
The reins were passed over by an emotional Nasser Hussain to Vaughan in 2003, but his tenure began poorly with a thumping innings defeat at Lord's against South Africa. However, England's new captain showed an early indication of the steeliness that would eventually characterise his style of leadership, as England bounced back at Trent Bridge to level the series with six wickets from James Kirtley. South Africa again stole the lead at Headingley but they couldn't finish England off at The Oval. With Alec Stewart retiring, Marcus Trescothick cracking 219 and Graham Thorpe making a riveting comeback hundred after his marriage breakdown, in levelling the series at 2-2 Vaughan had begun to show that he had the credentials to lead England to greater success. Gone was the unquenchable show of passion that Hussain showed; in came a calm, apparently laid-back but ferociously competitive new leader in Vaughan, and England ended their summer on a surprising high.
Beating West Indies away
The Caribbean had been an impregnable fortress for England captains, but the old world order was utterly reversed. England didn't sneak a win here and there; Vaughan's side dominated them throughout, but for the small matter of Brian Lara nudging 400 all on his own. Vaughan had a young team bristling with ability and fearlessness, with a bowling attack who were brilliantly coached by Troy Cooley. Steve Harmison's career zenith of 7 for 12 propelled England to a 10-wicket win in Jamaica, bowling with all the venom of one of West Indies' greats, while Matthew Hoggard grew in confidence and Andrew Flintoff became so much more than a useful change bowler. West Indies' fortress came tumbling down at Bridgetown. Vaughan had a four-man pace attack and aggressive, fearless batsmen - the winning nucleus that formed part of their Ashes-winning team of 2005.
A golden summer
It wasn't just the fact England broke a record that was set in 1885-88 and 1928-29. 2004 was a summer of unforgettable attraction, of attacking batting and skilful bowling and a confidence in their game that English cricket had lacked for so long. England won seven Tests on the trot and 10 in 11 matches. Eight batsmen totalled 13 centuries. Harmison, so impressive in the West Indies a few months previously, was consistently venomous and a genuine spearhead for Vaughan. For a team once allergic to winning, England had forgotten how to lose. Andrew Strauss cracked a hundred on debut against New Zealand and batted with an authority belying his total inexperience. But it was the growing maturity of Flintoff that changed Vaughan's team from merely challenging sides into walloping them. A brutal 167 sunk the West Indies at Edgbaston, and Vaughan began to shake his head in part-disbelief part-excitement at the cricketer he had the fortune of captaining. England were utterly in sync; Vaughan translated his silky batting into equally elegant leadership.
Beating South Africa away
After an unforgettable summer, England, with one eye on the Ashes that would follow, took on South Africa in their backyard. Strauss, who made his debut in the preceding summer, continued his prolific scoring and cracked 126 and 94 as England won the first Test at Port Elizabeth. But South Africa fought back with Shaun Pollock and Nicky Boje bowling them out to level the series at Cape Town. This England side, however, had courage and belief: Strauss registered his third hundred of the series and Hoggard's memorable 7 for 61 enabled England to take a lead at Johannesburg. It was their 12th win in ten months and their first at The Wanderers in 48 years.
England regain the Ashes
The 2005 Ashes was hyped like no other. Here was a team mentally ready to take on Australia, equipped with a brace of quality fast bowlers and led with ferocious determination by Vaughan. It began predictably enough with a hammering at Lord's, but the early signs in the first Test were that England wouldn't die wondering. Harmison rattled Justin Langer and cut Ricky Ponting's face during his 5 for 43, and England immediately bounced back at Edgbaston in a spectacle that lit up the summer. Sneaking home by two runs, England were led by a man unafraid of taking Australia on head-to-head, with seemingly the entire country roaring them on. Vaughan's 166 at Old Trafford nearly gave England a series lead, but that would have to wait until Trent Bridge where Ashley Giles and Hoggard nudged England over the line. England held off Australia at The Oval, and Vaughan found cricketing nirvana to become the first captain to win an Ashes series since Mike Gatting in 1986-87.
The most famous knee in the land
Along with his wry grin and dry humour in adversity, injuries were ever-present for Vaughan throughout his tenure, but never more so than after the 2005 Ashes. He missed the first Test against Pakistan later that year before he was ruled out for the entire 2006 season. His absence generated an increasing uncertainty over his future which manifested itself in England's decline in form, not to mention their floundering panic in finding a replacement skipper. Marcus Trescothick was tried in Pakistan. Then Strauss was given a go the following season in place of Flintoff, the preferred choice of the management but he too was ruled out with injury. None of Vaughan's replacements could match his authority and natural propensity as a leader of men. And though he eventually returned, England were roundly beaten at home by India before losing to Sri Lanka in their back yard. Another home series defeat to South Africa in 2008 was a loss too far.
If the hype to the 2005 Ashes was spirited, the return match 18 months later was arguably even greater. Tickets were sold out months in advance and Australia, chastened after their 2005 humiliation, were a side ravenous for revenge. Vaughan was no less desperate to ensure the urn wasn't handed back submissively, as though England had been its temporary babysitters, but in fact that was exactly what happened. Vaughan's dodgy knee ruled him out of the contest in June, some four-and-a-half months before the kick-off, and although he and the ECB made occasional hopeful noises of a shock return, he was never likely to make it. He watched Flintoff become the latest in a long line of England captains to wear that painful, forlorn face of exhaustion and humiliation, as Australia cracked a 5-0 whipping of rare savagery. Not even Vaughan could have prevented the flogging, but to witness Flintoff's drop in form and slip from grace was to realise England's golden era had come to an end. "In eight years in the England team, that was as low as I have ever seen players feel," Vaughan said when he briefly returned in the following one-day series. He might as well have been talking of himself.
India's Indian summer
With winning comes expectation: the expectance from a passionate country of supporters, from the players themselves but mostly it is generated by the captain himself. Vaughan expected to beat India in 2007, but this was the beginning of the end. He had resigned from the one-day captaincy after England's horrific World Cup, but to lose a Test series at home? That was a far greater pain. A country renowned for its swing bowlers were outswung by an Indian left-armer, but the cause of defeat lay in England's own misguided belief that all would be well. Somehow, they'd win. The fiasco of the England players scattering jelly beans on the pitch upset Zaheer Khan, yet it was evidence of a growing unease in the England camp that they were no longer winning as expected. It was India's first series win in England since 1986, but this didn't kick Vaughan and co from their complacency as quickly as hoped.
Was it all really worth it?
Following their defeat in Sri Lanka, England's demise continued in New Zealand. They won the series, but only after losing the first Test by 189 runs with a performance of tragicomedy proportions. New Zealand set them 300 to win in the fourth innings and they folded meekly to 110 all out in 55 overs of abject, awful batting. It was disappointing to say the least, but the form was depressingly consistent in terms of what England's batsmen had produced since the 2005 Ashes. Only a couple of months earlier, they had collapsed to 81 in Galle - an insipid, 1990s performance. In fact, England were beginning to resemble a crock of Nineties Nearlies all too frequently, and though Vaughan's batting had shone in patches since his return from knee surgery, he too was failing with the bat. Were the three knee operations really worth all this, far greater, pain?
One too far
And the walls came tumbling down. The similarities between Vaughan's departure and that of his predecessor, Hussain, are unbearably canny. It was five years ago almost to the day that Hussain handed over the reins. Like Vaughan, he had been at the mercy of Graeme Smith: not merely as an opposing captain, but as a batting, battling captain. On both occasions, two heavy innings from Smith have forced England's captains out of a job, which says rather more about South Africa's leader than it does about England's. Nevertheless, this was one series too far for Vaughan. He managed 240 runs in his last six Tests as captain - the last 40 of which were scraped together in three Tests against South Africa, as Dale Steyn repeatedly sent shock waves through a worried nation when he bowled England's captain with straight yorkers. His team were lost; the selections (Darren Pattinson being the most acute example) awry. South Africa clouted them at Headingley and were too powerful and unflinching at Edgbaston, winning their first series in England since 1965. Never before had Vaughan looked so beaten, so tired. A man of principle, this was the right time to go for himself, if not necessarily for his team. Then again, replacing a country's most successful captain is not a mantle anyone can really prepare for.
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