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Vaughan seizes the initiative

Andrew Miller's Wisden Verdict

Michael Vaughan: tailored his game to meet the needs of the hour
© Getty Images

Let's get the predictable simile out of the way now. Michael Vaughan showed the patience of a monk in his magnificent seven-hour innings, and earned the approval of the men in orange themselves, as they smiled down beatifically from their hillside hangouts. But for the second match running, it was left to England's irrepressible tail to dig the final furlong of another great escape, and that must be a shattering realisation for the Sri Lankans.
To let one game slip through the net could be considered unfortunate, but for Sri Lanka to squander two winning positions in a fortnight is plain carelessness. Throughout the match, there was a lack of urgency in Hashan Tillakaratne's captaincy, and while such sang froid might have been admirable in a closer-fought contest, today was the day to go for the jugular. Once Nasser Hussain had fallen to the fourth ball of the morning, England could never have been expected to score the 279 runs still required for victory. In the circumstances, an attacking fielder or two would not have gone amiss.
But such matters should be reserved for the Sri Lankan post-mortem. Today was Vaughan's day, and no mistake. He went to bed last night in his best form for almost a year, and woke up this morning knowing that the destiny of his series rested on his shoulders. But if England (and Tillakaratne, for that matter) expected a stroke-filled masterpiece a la Sydney or Adelaide, they were mistaken. Today, Vaughan reined in his shots and clung to the crease in the manner of the man whom he succeeded at the top of the order.
Vaughan's game has long since departed from the rigid Mancunian values that he inherited from his namesake, Michael Atherton. He has learnt to seize the initiative with some of the most resplendent shots in the game, but sometimes, mere survival is an art in itself. Atherton's defining innings - as a player and a captain - will always remain that unbeaten 185 at Johannesburg in 1995-96; a situation for which his obduracy had been tailor-made. Vaughan, on the other hand, tailored his game to meet the needs of the hour. It was his tenth Test century, but his first as captain, and he could not have produced a more appropriate masterpiece to mark the occasion.
And yet, England's survival relied on much more than just Vaughan's defiance. The scoreboard at lunchtime could have been plucked from one of those Ashes mismatches of the mid-1990s. Three cheap wickets had already fallen in pursuit of an improbable target. A man called Michael was clinging on with an unbeaten 81, and a man called Graham had come to his aid.
On countless occasions in the 1990s, Atherton and Graham Thorpe would give England a momentary cause for optimism, only for accidents and ingenuity to single them out. Today, when Thorpe was unluckily dismissed in the first over after lunch, it seemed the roof was about to cave in. And later, when Vaughan was once again nailed by Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra, a full 25 overs were still to be bowled. With just three England wickets remaining, the opposition would once have come swarming through the breach.
But even with a full hour's play remaining, the wise money was on England's survival. In fact, Gareth Batty and Chris Read played so well that England's hero of the series, Ashley Giles, was not even called upon to bat. These days, the top and tail all bat with the same aim in mind, and the onus is entirely on Sri Lanka to find a way through their defences at Colombo next week.
Andrew Miller, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is accompanying England on their travels throughout Sri Lanka.