Distraught Vaughan resigns in tears to open door for Pietersen

There was something different about Michael Vaughan's demeanour when he faced the media after England's devastating five-wicket loss to South Africa on Saturday evening. The series defeat signified beyond doubt that Vaughan's England side were a pale imitation of the team that triumphed over Australia in 2005, and were light years away from becoming the outfit he wanted them to be.

In the aftermath of previous humbling defeats Vaughan had remained upbeat, honest and defiant, but at Edgbaston there was a resigned manner to the way he answered questions. Against a belligerent and mightily impressive South African team he had attempted all the tricks that had made him England's most successful captain, but Graeme Smith, his opposite number, answered every one of them with interest. Vaughan looked a broken man.

It was therefore not a complete surprise when an emotional Vaughan yesterday announced at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough that he would stand down from the position he has held with pride, honour and prosperity for five years. Paul Collingwood's decision to stand down as one-day captain completed a momentous day for English cricket. The selectors are looking for one man to do the job and Kevin Pietersen is the favourite. He is believed to have met Peter Moores, the England coach, last night.

Most captains seem to know when their time is up. Nasser Hussain, Vaughan's predecessor, resigned in similar circumstances against the same opposition at the same ground five years ago. Pietersen, if he is to be Vaughan's heir – the appointment will be announced at Lord's at 1pm today, along with England's squad for the fourth Test against South Africa – may consider having a week off the next time Smith's side arrive at Edgbaston for a Test.

Vaughan admitted there were many factors that contributed to a decision he has contemplated since England's tour of New Zealand in March. A lack of form with the bat and the inconsistent and unprogressive nature of England's cricket under him were pivotal reasons, but the effect the job was having on the 33-year-old and his family should not be underestimated.

Captaining the England cricket team is a 24/7 affair and Vaughan implied that he did not like the person he was becoming, a cynical individual who was taking his troubles home with him. Nicola Vaughan would not be the first wife to tell her sporting husband to change his career if he could not leave his troubles on the doorstep. Vaughan has asked to miss Thursday's fourth Test at The Oval, but he intends to continue playing for Yorkshire and England. He admitted that next summer's Ashes would have provided him with the perfect end to his days as captain, but he still hopes to be there as a batsman.

"It is a fairy tale to captain your country and a fairy-tale ending would have been to lift the [Ashes] urn next year, but it was not to be," admitted Vaughan, who led England to 26 victories in the 51 Tests he was in charge. "I know that it is the right time, my mind has told me. It is not working as well as it once did. I wish my mind was fresher and I could have taken it on another year and had another stab at the Australians, but I have had five unbelievable years.

"Captaining England is an unbelievable privilege and it is a great feeling to lead out your country. I wish the bloke who gets the job the best of luck in the world. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make but also the easiest. It is the hardest because I am giving away the job that I have loved for five years. I have put my heart and soul into the job. But it was the easiest because my mind told me to pack it in. I just felt that if I kept on going my career could come to an abrupt end. I think that this decision will, hopefully, prolong my career. I intend to carry on playing. I believe there are a lot more runs in me. I hope it will make my last few years as a player a very exciting time.

"There are many people I would like to thank. To captain the players I have has been a privilege. A good captain has good players. I have had good players to play with, a good bowling attack and without them I would not have lasted as long as I have. I would like to thank all the England support staff, the PCA [the players union], England's supporters, and last, but by no means least my family. They have been a huge rock.

"I know how proud my mum and dad have been and when I spoke to my dad this morning to tell him the news he said, 'You can walk away a proud lad because you have given it everything', and that is all he ever asked me to do." Vaughan broke down in tears on mentioning his family, revealing rare emotion. During his time in charge he was a likeable and approachable person but underneath the sympathetic exterior there has always been a tough, ruthless streak.

It was present in his final test as captain, as Vaughan refused to allow the South Africans to place a white sheet over an area that was preventing their batsmen from seeing certain deliveries bowled by Andrew Flintoff.

Vaughan benefited hugely from following Hussain, who had spent the previous four years knocking England into shape. Within the team Hussain was not universally popular, but he was very good. The players immediately fell for Vaughan, welcoming his more understanding style of man-management.

He formed a strong relationship with Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, and the pair produced innovative and well thought out plans which culminated in the Ashes being regained in unforgettable style in 2005. Things began to turn sour when he injured his right knee on England's first tour after the 2005 Ashes. It kept him out for a year.

It was during his time away that his standing in the England dressing room began to change. Missing England's 2006-07 tour of Australia hurt Vaughan hugely and in an attempt to remain involved he became quite political. The players in Australia were not sure what he was up to. When he returned in 2007, one high-profile player informed me that when Vaughan told him it was Tuesday he had to go to his room and look in his diary.

Vaughan's frustration with his own game and the progress of the England side surfaced two weeks ago when he blamed confused selection for his side's defeat at Headingley. From that moment his days in charge were numbered.

The one regret Vaughan has is that he did not inform his team of his decision to resign on Saturday evening. He should not fret about it for too long. Vaughan has plenty to be extremely proud of and English cricket should be extremely grateful for the contribution he has made.

Percentage game: Vaughan's figures

*MICHAEL VAUGHAN

Test series record: P16 W10 D1 L 5

Total Test record as captain: P51 W26 D14 L11 (win percentage 51)

*Other captains' Test records

J M Brearley P31 W18 D9 L4 (58.1%)

P B H May P 41 W20 D11 L10 (48.8%)

R Illingworth P31 W12 D14 L5 (38.7%)

N Hussain P45 W17 D13 L15 (37.8%)

G A Gooch P34 W10 D12 L12 (29.4%)

M A Atherton P54 W13 D20 L21 (24.1%)

D I Gower P32 W5 D9 L18 (15.6%)

*HIGHS

2004: England were unbeaten, including eight straight wins. Beat West Indies away for first time since 1968.

Won all seven home Tests against New Zealand and West Indies then beat South Africa away for first time since 1965.

Won the incredible 2005 Ashes series in England 2-1.

*LOWS

Lost his first Test in charge against South Africa by an innings and 215 runs.

Knee injury prevented Vaughan from playing almost entire 2006 season. Unfit to play in the 2006-07 Ashes in Australia, which England lost 5–0.

Lost what turned out to be final series in charge against South Africa in 2008 – resigning with deficit at 2-0 – England's first loss at home against the Proteas since their readmission to Test cricket.

'It's the best job in the world but things change'

Michael Vaughan spoke exclusively to The Independent last year.

On the captaincy: "It's the best job in the world but things come to an end and it's not something I worry about. I mean, that's life..."

On resigning: "I haven't had enough ... but I'll know when the time is right."

On splitting the Test and one-day captaincy: "It's not ideal. But at the minute it's the best thing for the team."

On the 2009 Ashes: "I want to lead the side. I'd love to have a go at Australia. But things change. I might arrive and think, 'This isn't my role any more'."

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