June 30, 2009

Good at hiding pressure and pain

Vaughan the captain put you in a good space, Vaughan the batsman was one of the best England had. So what if he isn't exactly a Yorkshireman?

Before I crack on with my eulogy to Michael Vaughan, there is one thing I've got to get off my chest: he ain't a Yorkshire lad, he's from fricking Lancashire! He always wanted to be a Yorkshire lad, but unfortunately for him he will always be from the wrong side of the Pennines. But we have tried not to hold that against him, and he has probably been at Headingley long enough now to have earned honorary status.

Seriously, though, this is a very sad day for Michael and for everyone who played under him during his days as England captain. I remember him from the days when he was just getting into the first team at Yorkshire. He used to be a batter who couldn't hit it off the square, but then all of a sudden he turned into a fantastic, elegant and free-flowing run-scoring machine.

He obviously wanted to get back into the England team and play in this summer's Ashes, but his not making the squad made his decision for him. His knee is clearly still troubling him, and playing county cricket day in and day out isn't good for it. But he captained England, took them to an Ashes victory and is one of the most successful captains in recent history. He has done a lot for the game, and now he's looking forward to new challenges.

It was great to grow up with and play alongside a man like Michael, and I particularly remember how my England debut, against West Indies at Lord's in 2000, was made so much easier by the presence of three of my Yorkshire team-mates, Darren Gough, Craig White and Michael, in the same England dressing room.

In fact he had been a team-mate for so long at county and international level that I never really thought of him as a captain until the moment it happened. I know he captained England A before he played his first Test, but when Nasser Hussain stepped down the choice was between Vaughany and Marcus Trescothick. And I remember looking at Tres - and I knew him pretty well by then - and thinking that if he tried to tell me off, I'd just laugh at him. I just couldn't envisage Tres handing out bollockings, so I thought, "Yeah Vaughany will be the captain." And what a good captain he turned out to be.

He always had a humour about him. Even when things were going against you, he'd come out with a quick one-liner, or a wry little look and a smile, as if to say, "Yeah, we're in the shit here, but you know what you've got to do, get on and do it." He was fantastic like that - he never got at you, even when you weren't bowling at your best. Instead he always seemed to know what you were feeling, and would coax the best out of you anyway.

Of course he had very high standards, so did we all, but he was a completely different kind of leader to Nasser, who used to kick the dirt and chunter whenever you bowled a bad ball. Vaughany would just roll his eyes at you, and say: "Hoggy, Hoggy, Hoggy, what the f*** are you doing?" Instead of thinking "I need to bowl well because I'll get a bollocking if I don't" it was more a case of thinking "Yeah, it's my performance, I need to sort this out".

Michael was a completely different kind of leader to Nasser, who used to kick the dirt and chunter whenever you bowled a bad ball. Vaughany would just roll his eyes at you, and say: "Hoggy, Hoggy, Hoggy, what the f*** are you doing?"

But from time to time, he'd have a few harsh words with us. I remember our first game in South Africa in 2004-05. We were hammered by South Africa A in Potchefstroom, and afterwards he got us all into the changing rooms, and said, "Look, I don't give a f*** about this game, it's a warm-up, I really don't care. But this was an absolutely crap performance. We need to improve our game immensely. Again it's only a warm-up, so don't take it too much to heart, but get your f***ing acts together." He got his message through loud and clear, and we went on to win the series.

He was great on an individual level as well, and he was the first captain who really managed to spell out what it was that he wanted from me. It was in the Caribbean in 2003-04 when he basically told me he wanted me to be the shop-floor steward, the guy he could rely upon to put the ball on the spot and give him control of the game by not going for more than two or three an over.

He told me that the big fast lads, Steve Harmison and the like, would take the limelight and get the wickets. He just told me to do my job quietly and nicely, and if I did the right thing by the team I'd still pick up a few wickets here and there.

He used to make me laugh, stationed under his sun-hat at mid-off, and yelling to me, "Hoggy, get off those office steps, you're not going up there. Now get down and sweep the freaking floor." It was lovely to be captained with such a fresh approach. He showed no fear of failure, and so long as you were seen to be trying the right thing at the right time, whether you were batting or bowling, it didn't matter whether you succeeded or failed.

As a captain, he was good at hiding the pressure. Even when the heat was on at the height of the 2005 Ashes, he was still the same chilled-out, laid-back guy that I'd always known. Off the pitch he had some tough times like everyone else, but his outward persona around the team and the media, he was still Vaughany, still the same relaxed character you'd come to expect.

Cricket is a cruel game, though, and it was massive bad luck when he was struck down with that knee injury in Pakistan, which effectively ended England's run of success, straight after the 2005 Ashes. He had been in good form, leading the team well, and it was always going to be tough to lose such an influential captain, and one of the team's best batters. We didn't exactly cover ourselves in glory after his injury, but there's no way that Michael can be blamed for our poor performances in the following seasons.

Who knows what might have happened if he'd got the right treatment for his knee straightaway. Unfortunately it robbed him of some of his best years, and it still troubles him. If he turns the wrong way, or dives in the field and lands a bit funny, it clearly troubles him. He played a shot at Warwickshire the other day, and just collapsed. Everyone thought he'd slipped, but his knee had actually given way. It still gives him a lot of gyp.

But that's the thing about Michael. He goes through a lot of pain that nobody knows about. I remember his first Ashes series, in Australia, when he scored three centuries - he actually did it with a broken shoulder. Jason Gillespie hit him on the point of the shoulder in the first Test and broke it. But he still played and not only did he score a massive amount of runs, he didn't moan on the pitch or complain about the pain. He just got on and did it, which is the Vaughany way.

But now that he has taken the decision to retire, the world is Vaughany's oyster. He can seriously turn his hand to anything. He has got a business brain, he is good at speeches, he'd be a good coach and a mentor, and he has even turned himself into an artist with his Artballing project. And then there's Sky, they'd be silly not to have him on their books. He will succeed in anything he wants to turn his hand to.

Matthew Hoggard will be writing regular columns for Cricinfo through the 2009 season