It's not just Vaughan
For a batsman good enough to have been the world Test number one, Michael Vaughan has had a wretched World Cup. He opens England's batting, yet he goes into today's crunch game against South Africa with an average like a handy tailender (16) and the strike rate of a Seventies stonewaller (55). Vaughan has managed no fifties, no sixes, and only 15 fours off 203 balls. Of England's 1455 runs in the tournament, only 113 have come from his cultured bat. He has faced 75 more balls than England's new boy, Ravi Bopara, and made one more run. As World Cup openers go, he is the poor man's William Porterfield.
Anyone can have a bad trot, but this one has now lasted for most of Vaughan's one-day career: in 84 matches he has an average of 26, with not a single hundred. Even a Vaughan fan has to concede that it's a feeble record. But it's not just him. England captains never make many one-day runs.
The Wisden Cricketer magazine are running a competition to name England's all-time best (or least worst) one-day XI, and I was one of the people they roped in to make a selection. So I checked the stats and found that many of England's best-loved cricketers flopped with the bat while leading the one-day team.
Vaughan's average as captain is 28. That's decidedly better than Alec Stewart, who averaged 23 in 41 matches as one-day captain. It's better than David Gower, who managed a measly 25, and much the same as Graham Gooch, who steered England to the 1992 World Cup final but hardly led by example, averaging 29 as one-day captain. And it puts Andrew Flintoff in the shade: his average as captain is 17, with no fifties.
It's partly that English coaching is geared to Test, not one-day cricket, stressing defence more than attack, orthodoxy rather than invention
Vaughan's strike rate as captain is 65. Turgid stuff, but much the same as Stewart (64) and Mike Denness (63), and not as bad as Mike Atherton (59) or Gooch (55), let alone Mike Brearley (45). Even Graham Thorpe, a fine one-day finisher, managed just 58 in his three matches as captain. The only captains with strike rates over 80 are stand-ins - Allan Lamb, John Emburey, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Alan Knott and, bizarrely, Brian Close.
Nasser Hussain did slightly better than Vaughan, with an average of 31 and a strike rate of 70. Mike Gatting did slightly better still, with an average of 33 and a strike rate of 75 - hot stuff by the standards of the 1980s. But when it comes to hundreds, they're all about as bad as each other. In 465 matches, England's one-day captains have mustered only six centuries. Ricky Ponting gets that many every 18 months.
The only other major teams with as few as six hundreds are Pakistan, who have often been captained by fast bowlers (Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis), and South Africa, who have only been playing one-day internationals since 1991. All South Africa's six hundreds, curiously, have been made by Graeme Smith. Hansie Cronje never got one, although he made umpteen fifties. Neither England's captains nor South Africa's have ever made a World Cup hundred, a statistical curiosity which really ought to end today.
Of the six one-day hundreds England captains have made, two were by Mike Atherton. Excellent innings they were too, each against a top attack - West Indies in 1995 and Australia in 1997. Atherton saw off Curtly Ambrose on a dewy morning at Lord's and Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne at The Oval. Maybe England should have valued him more highly. His record - average a shade under 34 - is a whole lot better than some of the men he has worked with in commentary boxes and in the England hierarchy. Geoff Boycott made three runs in two games as England one-day captain, Tony Greig five runs in two, Ray Illingworth five in three.
Those last few figures are just random bits of trivia, but overall there is a clear pattern. England captains don't make big one-day runs; they bat worse in one-dayers than in Tests. Why should this be?
It's partly that English coaching is geared to Test, not one-day cricket, stressing defence more than attack, orthodoxy rather than invention. To see Vaughan play his classical strokes, mostly straight to the man at mid-off, is like watching a Victorian watercolourist stumble into a party at Damien Hirst's.
It's partly the one-day cricket played by the counties, which is all quantity and not much quality. There are three one-day tournaments, which is at least one too many. The only one that makes players stronger and cleverer is Twenty20, and Duncan Fletcher seldom lets his big names join in the fun. Vaughan has played two Twenty20 games in his life, both for England.
England weren't wrong to pick Vaughan: he is worth a place, just, as a puppeteer alone
These factors apply to most England players. The difference with the captains is simply that they are England captain. It's a heavy burden to bear. You're being judged nearly all the time - but less so in one-dayers. Most England supporters probably don't even know that Gooch and Gower and Stewart flopped with the bat. Compared to the blazing limelight of Tests, a one-day series is a relative hiding place, little scrutinised by the press, soon forgotten by the fans.
The World Cup, of course, is different. And some England captains have raised their game accordingly - Gatting averaged 50 in 1987, Denness flourished briefly in 1975, and Stewart dragged his average up to 37 in various outings spread over 11 years. But they all captained in World Cups that came at the start of an international season. Vaughan, like Hussain in 2003 and Atherton in 1996, has the extra pressure of working with an exhausted rabble.
England weren't wrong to pick Vaughan: he is worth a place, just, as a puppeteer alone. Where they have blundered is in surrounding him with other slow-lane drivers. Fletcher's suggestion that opening with Flintoff or Pietersen would mean shifting four or five players is nonsense. Vaughan, Pietersen, Bell, Joyce, Flintoff, Collingwood: job done, with everyone in a position they're used to except Pietersen, who loves a new challenge.
In the long run, what all this shows is that England should have a separate one-day captain. There is a squeamishness about splitting the job which is quite misplaced. Australia have done it with huge success, keeping both teams growing and allowing first Steve Waugh, then Ponting, to get years of practice before taking over as Test captain. English resistance to it tends to be based on the idea that the Test captain wouldn't like it. Which goes straight back to the root of the problem.
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Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden and now edits www.timdelisle.com