Captain, you have a problem - it's you

Inconsistency of Vaughan the batsman is now a headache for Vaughan the team leader
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The Independent Online

The sight of Michael Vaughan removing his helmet and quizzically making his way towards the pavilion gate with another low score next to his name has become all too familiar an image for England fans in the past 28 months. Nobody can argue that England have not made huge strides since Vaughan became captain in July 2003, but it has come at a considerable personal cost.

When Vaughan replaced Nasser Hussain to become England's 74th Test captain he was rated the best batsman in the world. It had taken England 13 Test matches to realise that Vaughan was at his best opening the batting, but once they did he quickly entered a golden 14-month period in which he scored 1,739 runs at an average of 72.46.

There were eight glorious hundreds, including three - 177, 145 and 183 - on England's ill-fated 2002-03 Ashes tour of Australia.

These figures have plummeted since Vaughan became captain. In that time England have won 19 and lost only five of the 33 Tests they have played, but in 62 innings he himself has averaged just 35.9.

The captaincy, and the extra pressure that comes with it, are often said to be the principal causes, but they are not the only reasons. Vaughan selflessly moved down the order to accommodate the arrival of Andrew Strauss, but he has rarely batted with the same composure since.

As a captain, Vaughan is very proactive. He has a head full of ideas and he is constantly tinkering with the field or asking bowlers to bowl to different plans. His approach may not help England's over-rate, but it has worked in winning Test matches.

Vaughan lives every ball, and that has to take its toll on him. After 100 overs in the field he must feel shattered as he sits in his corner of the dressing room and begins strapping on his pads. England's openers, Marcus Trescothick and Strauss, have generally given him the chance to get himself composed before he walks out to bat - and this is reflected by the fact that there has been very little change in the number of occasions he is dismissed for a score under 10 since he became captain.

But the statistics seem to show that problems start once he has made more than 10 runs. In his pomp, after completing the hard task of getting himself in Vaughan consistently went on to post a big score. But now he has become vulnerable when the initial burst of adrenalin has worn off, and just when he should be looking to consolidate. Since he became the England captain almost half of Vaughan's innings have ended with a score between 10 and 30.

Concentration and tiredness, factors brought on by the captaincy, are legitimate reasons for the alarming fall-off in the figures, but Vaughan's approach to his batting has not helped his cause either.

When he was scoring heavily between May 2002 and July 2003 there was an assured, controlled air about his batting. He appeared to be cruising along in fifth gear, playing the game at his own pace and oblivious to anything going on around him. In sports-speak he was "in the zone".

This joyful period was always going to end, but nobody would have believed that his form would fall away as dramatically as it has. Vaughan keeps stating that he is not overly concerned with his lack of runs, but deep down it must be frustrating him. It is certainly frustrating those who have followed him closely since 2003.

Vaughan is aware of how he was playing, and the mindset he had when he was treating the best bowlers in the world with contempt, but as of yet he has not been able to retrieve it. He continues to work hard, but in his desperation to get from first gear to fifth gear he has forgotten about the other three, when it was they who allowed him to get to where he was.

Vaughan continues to try to assert himself on his opponents, but the way in which he is getting out highlights a failure to execute his strokes as well as he used to. The number of times he is caught by fielders other than the wicketkeeper continues to increase, and that suggests that he is losing his wicket to attacking shots.

And even when he has performed well in the past 12 months he has had a fair slice of luck on the way. Last summer, he was dropped at slip and bowled by a Glenn McGrath no-ball before going on to score a majestic 166 against Australia. Unlike Michael Atherton he does not seem prepared to score dirty, ugly hundreds.

His ongoing knee problem does not help, but his team are at a stage where they need their captain to show greater consistency. The middle order have plenty of potential but they need a steady, Graham Thorpe like figure among them, and Vaughan can fill that void. Ian Bell has had an excellent tour but he is still inexperienced, and you never quite know what you are going to get from Messrs Pietersen and Flintoff.

The Numbers Game: Statistics tell Vaughan story

Michael Vaughan's Test career as a batsman can be broken up into three sections. The first contains his performances in his initial 16 Tests; the second is the golden period which propelled him to the top of the world batting rankings and includes his marvellous tour to Australia in which he scored three centuries; and the third is since he became captain.

TESTS 1-16

Innings: 27, Not Out: 1, Runs: 810, Average: 31.15. 100: 1. Scores: 0-10: 22%. 11-30: 37%, 31-60: 26%, 61-99: 11%, 100+: 4%. How out: ct 23%, ct wkt 42%, lbw 12%, b 19%, oth 4%

TESTS 17-31

Inns: 26, NO: 2, Runs: 1,739, Ave: 72.46. 100: 8. Scores: 0-10: 19%. 11-30: 19%, 31-60: 23%, 61-99: 8%, 100+: 31%. How out: ct 42%, ct wkt 29%, lbw 17%, b 8%, other 4%.

TESTS 31 ONWARDS

Inns: 62, NO: 5, Runs: 2,046, Ave: 35.89. 100: 6. Scores: 0-10: 21%. 11-30: 45%, 31-60: 18%, 61-99: 6%, 100+: 10%. How out: ct 47%, ct wkt 25%, lbw 10%, b 16%, oth 2%.

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