During last summer's Ashes, Joe Root joined an exclusive club when he became only the fourth English batsman since 1980 to top the world rankings. Graham Gooch and David Gower, second and fourth on England's all-time run-scoring list, were the first two. The third was Root's fellow Yorkshireman, Michael Vaughan, who topped the rankings for 44 days in 2003.

His reign may have been short-lived but throughout 2002 and the early part of 2003, Vaughan dominated the attacks of India, Sri Lanka and Australia in a way that few other England batsmen have ever done. He scored seven hundreds in just 12 Test matches, including three in the 2002-03 Ashes series.

Vaughan's Test career started in Johannesburg in December 1999. England had slumped to 2 for 4 when he joined fellow debutant Chris Adams at the crease, with Allan Donald on fire. It was quite a baptism.

"I met Michael in the middle and he was very relaxed," says Adams. "I laughed and said, 'What's happening out here?' He replied, 'How the hell do I know, I've not faced a ball yet.' As I took guard he came down and said, 'Just like playing for Yorkshire this!' It served to reduce the obvious nerves."

Duncan Fletcher had insisted on Vaughan's selection for the South Africa tour despite a slow start to his first-class career. In six seasons after making his debut for Yorkshire in 1993, Vaughan had only averaged over 40 in the County Championship once, but Fletcher had seen something he liked.

"Michael had been very impressive in his leadership on England A tours," remembers Adams. "His technique matched the blueprint that Duncan believed a batsman needed to be successful in Test cricket: pre-delivery trigger, high backlift, balanced footwork, a clean blade pathway and very strong off the back foot."

Despite having the technique, going into the 2002 English summer the jury was still out on Vaughan. He had not been selected for the first Test of the India tour the previous winter and it was Graham Thorpe's return home for personal reasons that gave him an opportunity. He made a few runs in India and on the subsequent tour of New Zealand, but a return of one hundred from 16 Test matches at an average of 31 was not convincing.

The first Test of the summer was at Lord's against Sri Lanka. Vaughan's form for Yorkshire had been poor leading up to the game, so he enlisted Fletcher's help at the Nursery Ground nets. Fletcher, known as a shrewd observer of technique, quickly spotted a technical flaw and a slight adjustment made all the difference. On a belter of a pitch, Vaughan made 64 and then 115 as England followed on. The match was drawn, and for Vaughan it was to be the start of a glorious run.

It wasn't just the runs but the way that they were scored that was telling. As with many Test players, Vaughan was often tentative and looking to survive in his early appearances. After the New Zealand tour, he resolved to play far more aggressively, which he recounts in his book A Year in the Sun: "I was going to discover just where I could get on the power of positive thought and strokeplay."

It clearly had an effect. India arrived later that 2002 summer for a four-Test series, in which Vaughan made hundreds at Lord's, Trent Bridge and The Oval. His 197 in Nottingham would remain his highest Test score, and four hundreds in seven Tests during the summer confirmed his arrival as a top-class player.

For Vaughan's career, the upturn in form was important but so too was it for England. Since Michael Atherton's retirement the previous summer, England had struggled to find an opening partner for Marcus Trescothick. With the introduction of the exciting fast-bowling duo of Simon Jones and Steve Harmison during the India series, England were starting to find answers to their outstanding questions. Whether their improvement would be enough to win the upcoming Ashes, though, would remain to be seen.

Steve Waugh's Australian team was at the peak of its powers with Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne to the fore. Despite their improvement, England arrived more in hope than expectation. Vaughan's stock had risen sufficiently for him to be singled out by McGrath before the series started as the prized wicket.

While McGrath had plans for Vaughan, the Yorkshireman had a few of his own. During the India series, he had asked Sachin Tendulkar for his thoughts on the Australian attack, and in particular McGrath. Tendulkar suggested that the best way to play the Australian spearhead was to attack him and not let him settle.

Vaughan was confident and in form; he was England's hope. "Every player in their career hits a period where he is at his absolute optimum peak, belief and confidence is at its absolute maximum," says Adams. "This was it for Michael."

Not that the Ashes started auspiciously for Vaughan or England. The opening Test of the series was a nightmare. Nasser Hussain won the toss, decided to bowl, and Australia duly finished the day on 364 for 2, which was also notable for an awful injury to Jones. England were easily beaten and Vaughan was dismissed cheaply twice by McGrath.

Vaughan's knee had been operated on at the end of the English summer but it was still proving problematic. A steroid injection before the Test matches had helped, but after twisting his knee in the warm-up on the morning of the second Test in Adelaide, Hussain went out for the toss not knowing if Vaughan would be fit. It is all the more remarkable, then, that he played and went on to score 177 on the first day.

A feature of the innings was his back-foot play and, especially, a pull shot he had developed over the summer. He was pulling balls pitched fuller than ones that could normally be pulled. He used it to knock Australia's seamers off their natural length, meaning they then pitched fuller, which enabled him to drive. He had heeded Tendulkar's advice.

It could have been very different. On 19, Vaughan skewed an attempted drive to Justin Langer, who believed he had taken a clean catch. Vaughan was unconvinced and stood his ground. The decision was referred to the third umpire and was given not out. The Australians, and Langer in particular, were furious.

It was a pivotal moment in Vaughan's career but showed much about his hard-nosed character. The subsequent barbs seemed only to spur him on. Later Waugh would remark how he admired Vaughan's ability to stand up to everything the Australians had thrown at him. He was also the only player Waugh had seen succeed after being targeted by McGrath.

Vaughan continued in the same vein throughout that Ashes series, following his hundred at Adelaide with another two, one each at the MCG and the SCG. England managed to avoid a whitewash by winning the fifth Test, in Sydney, in part due to Vaughan's second-innings 183.

Despite a 4-1 series defeat, Vaughan's stock had risen further. His 633 runs were the first time in 32 years that a visiting batsman had scored over 600 runs in Australia. He had dominated in a way perhaps only Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar had managed against Warne and McGrath, and rarely could an England player have played as well before or since.

Shortly after the Ashes, Vaughan replaced Matthew Hayden as the world's No. 1 ranked batsman.

"I think the Ashes series was where Michael developed his belief that England could beat Australia," says Adams. "Instead of trying always to survive against that team, he realised the plan should be to go very much on the offensive and fight fire with fire." Two years later, Vaughan led England to a remarkable Ashes victory with his side playing aggressive and fearless cricket.

England have not had many cricketers reach the top of the world rankings. Although Vaughan never again quite reached the same heights, for a year he played like a dream, deservedly joining an exclusive club as the best batsman on the planet.