A captain's innings from a man with a mission

Michael Vaughan showed on Friday in the third Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge that his best form is little more than a hair's breadth away. After surviving a slightly sketchy start he settled down to play some glorious cover drives and the trademark pull for six, which took him to his fifty, was a gem. The only thing missing when he was lbw to one from Chris Cairns that kept low was that the England captain did not have three figures against his name.

Michael Vaughan showed on Friday in the third Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge that his best form is little more than a hair's breadth away. After surviving a slightly sketchy start he settled down to play some glorious cover drives and the trademark pull for six, which took him to his fifty, was a gem. The only thing missing when he was lbw to one from Chris Cairns that kept low was that the England captain did not have three figures against his name.

This would surely have brought back the confidence that at times has seemed to be missing from his batting this summer. But anyone who was going along as well as he was when he was out is surely on the verge of playing a series of big innings. While his batting may be just off the boil, Vaughan has developed into an impressive figure at the end of his first year as captain.

When he was thrust into the job after Nasser Hussain's precipitate departure just over a year ago after the first of back-to-back Test matches against South Africa, his every move suggested surprise at finding himself in charge. At first there was an understandable tentativeness about his captaincy and it may not have helped that his immediate predecessor was in the side under him.

Hussain and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, had by all accounts established a close relationship, but Vaughan is a more relaxed and laid back character than Hussain and was always going to bring a different approach to the job. It will have taken the coach and the new captain a while to get used to each other. After suffering the humbling experience of losing his first Test as captain by an innings and 92 runs to South Africa, Vaughan managed to steer England to a most creditable 2-2 draw in that series, although he did not score the runs he would have liked.

A tough winter lay ahead of him, with tours before Christmas to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and to the West Indies in the New Year. Bangladesh and the West Indies were beaten while Sri Lanka, as they usually are, proved to be a more awkward proposition on their own pitches. Vaughan scored match-saving hundreds in both Sri Lanka and the West Indies, without quite producing the form he had shown the previous winter in Australia.

During the winter he really settled into the job of captaincy, and this summer he has become a figure of impressive authority. There is no question as to who is in charge of the side. One only has to watch for a couple of minutes to realise that Vaughan is pulling all the strings. His is an easy authority, too: he clearly knows his own mind; there is never the slightest suggestion of panic; he communicates well with the other players; he appears always to be receptive to suggestions anyone may make; and he is in constant touch with his bowlers.

There is an easy flow to his leadership, and he obviously has the respect of all his players. Under his command, the dressing room will be a happy place. Although he is by nature an easy going chap, if the need arose he would be more than prepared to take a tough line, but it would almost certainly be done with a hand on the culprit's shoulder rather than with a finger wagging in his face. His character and style of leadership is reflected in his batting, an art he manages to make look both easy and elegant. There is no doubt that all his players are prepared to give him 100 percent all the time, and of course it helps that England have developed the happy knack of winning Test matches. Vaughan is the ideal type of captain to take England on the journey that was begun by Hussain's more autocratic form of captaincy.

The progress Vaughan has made in the job underlines the incredible insensitivity of the ECB in cautioning him over selectorial comments he made in answer to questions about the preferment of Geraint Jones to Chris Read as wicket keeper in the final Test on the recent tour of the West Indies. He merely said that Jones would be given a reasonable run in the side - just as Read had been given - which was nothing more than common sense and could hardly be interpreted as revealing selectorial secrets.

John Carr, the Director of Cricket Operations apparently wrote him a letter at the end of the tour that included a terse paragraph or two cautioning Vaughan against making similar comments in the future. This was an absurdly heavy-handed way to deal with a trifling situation. Anyone with any skills in communication would surely have picked up the telephone and had a quiet but cheerful word with the captain. Just at the moment, the ECB badly needs to take a long and careful look at itself.

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