Cool-hand Vaughan ready for hot seat

One-day series: A new captain for a new side as mission 2007 sets sail and puts the emphasis on pure pace
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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan was asked on Friday if he ever became stressed. "Of course I get stressed," he replied. But he said it like a man who gets stressed the way Fred Astaire got clumsy.

On Tuesday, Vaughan will captain England for the first time in a one-day international after his solitary dry run yesterday against Wales. The season has entered its limited-overs mode. For the next month, Test cricket will be in storage and England will play a three-match series against Pakistan and a triangular tournament involving South Africa and Zimbabwe, in which the sides will play each other three times before the final.

This sounds a lot of one-day fare, and although it is wise to counsel against too much fast food, it should be mentioned that not only do England desperately need the diet but also that the first three matches are sell-outs. This is not entirely because of Vaughan, but things will be different from now on, and it should take about an over to spot it.

Vaughan is cucumber-cool. It shows in the way he moves and the way he bats. He might be, who knows, a seething mass of existential angst underneath, but he exudes an unflappable, rigid control. Vaughan does things with aplomb, which for decades was what England captains had in their mouth. He landed the one-day job because of his supreme Test batting form last summer and winter (and the loss of form of his friend and chief rival, Marcus Trescothick), which might be a bit like hoping that your new musical star can dance as well as sing.

"I'm bound to change as a person. Who wouldn't, being the captain of England?" he said. "But hopefully I'll change for the right reasons." His relationship with his colleagues, too, is certain to change, but his door will be open. "Not many captains can keep everyone happy. You're going to have to upset players, but that doesn't worry me at all.

"Communication is the main issue. If someone has a problem, I don't want him just whispering to people. Come straight to me and we'll sort it out. If it means having an argument we'll have an argu-ment, but at the end of it we'll move on."

There are bound to be comparisons with his immediate predecessor, Nasser Hussain, not all of which, as Vaughan impishly concedes, will be concerned with Hussain's receding hairline. Hussain asked for advice, certainly, but Vaughan will positively encourage opinions from everyone. He wants 11 thinkers.

Hussain was, as in the case of Test matches, a leader with his heart on his sleeve. Vaughan will probably keep his well concealed, no matter how frequently and heavily it is beating at the time.

Whether it is linked to a cricket brain as sharp and as eager as Hussain's is as yet unknown. Vaughan himself made no bold predictions on those lines. But he has been made England's one-day captain, and the intention surely is for him to mould a team in his image and take it to the next World Cup in 2007 (and make him Test captain as well).

The journey starts in Manchester against Pakistan on Tuesday, and ideally will end at a venue yet to be nominated on a date as yet undecided, but which happens to coincide with the next World Cup final.

"I see it as a great opportunity to make myself into a good captain," he said. "I don't think I came out and said I want the job. I just said I would like to be mentioned if the job became available. I feel it's a good challenge, a great time to be captain, with an inexperienced team that we're obviously building on. The next four weeks is a good opportunity to see if I'm up to the job. The main thing is to win early games. The best way to gain experience is by winning games."

He has been asked to lead a virtually untried team (Pakistan, too, are in transition) who may make mistakes but also have nothing yet to fear. In the absence of a mystery spinner - the like of which Hussain regularly and desperately craved - England's strategy will be based on pace.

Unless somebody with a corkscrew wrist and a radar-like sense of direction comes along, it is to be hoped that they stick with this. Much of England's one-day difficulties in the recent past, embodied by miserable showings in the last three World Cups, have been caused by poor preparation and last-minute changes of approach.

"It looks like we're going to have a battery of fast bowlers who can bowl a 90-mile-an-hour ball, which is a massive bonus," said Vaughan. "We want bowlers who can break partnerships in that 15-to- 40-over period in the middle of an innings.

"I can't see how we're going to produce a mystery spinner in this country, so pace becomes important. Ask anybody, if you've got somebody bowling at 90 and is quite accurate, you've got a chance." England have said this before - in regard to Stephen Harmison before the World Cup - but now they must put their words into practice.

If the team are unproven, then so, peculiarly, is their leader, both as captain and batsman. This might seem odd for a man who was recently the No 1 ranked Test batsman in the world, but Vaughan has never yet made runs consistently in one-dayers.

"I've got to try and get hundreds and score runs consistently but not change my game too much," he said. "The first 10 one-day games I played were shocking." His highest score in his first seven innings was 26.

He has not been captain of a side since he led the England A team in 1998-99. But at least he did that well. It would be wrong to expect too much of him at the start. Why should England expect much?

"Never say never," he said. "I'm not going to say I'll never kick the dirt or shake my head, because you're bound to do it once in a while." But you fancy that he is more likely to be kicking over the traces.

Tournament details

England squad
M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) Age 28, caps 26
Kabir Ali (Worcestershire) 22, 0
J M Anderson (Lancashire) 20, 14
R Clarke (Surrey) 21, 0
A Flintoff (Lancashire) 25, 52
A F Giles (Warwickshire) 30, 24
D Gough (Yorkshire) 32, 111
S J Harmison (Durham) 24, 5
R L Johnson (Somerset) 28, 0
R W T Key (Kent) 24, 0
A McGrath (Yorkshire) 27, 0
C M W Read (Nottinghamshire) 24, 9
V S Solanki (Worcestershire) 27, 8
M E Trescothick (Somerset) 27, 61
J O Troughton (Warwickshire) 24, 0
(J T Kirtley, Sussex, replaces Johnson for Pakistan games)

NatWest Challenge
Tue 17 June: England v Pakistan (Old Trafford d/n)
Fri 20 June: England v Pakistan (The Oval)
Sun 22 June: England v Pakistan (Lord's)

NatWest Series
Thu 26 June: England v Zimbabwe (Trent Bridge)
Sat 28 June: England v South Africa (The Oval)
Sun 29 June: Zimbabwe v South Africa (Canterbury)
Tue 1 July: England v Zimbabwe (Headingley)
Thu 3 July: England v South Africa (Old Trafford d/n)
Sat 5 July: Zimbabwe v South Africa (Cardiff)
Sun 6 July: England v Zimbabwe (Bristol)
Tue 8 July: England v South Africa (Edgbaston, d/n)
Thu 10 July: Zimbabwe v South Africa (Rose Bowl)
Sat 12 July: Final (Lord's)

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