Dreaming of Banger, Vince and a 100 Test caps

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History will repeat itself at the Dome next week when two England cricketers reach their hundredth Test match together. For Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton there will be a sense of déjà vu as strong as any they experienced during an England collapse. Stewart, in his role as national body-language coach, will line up with the rest of England plc's key management personnel as the two centurions are presented with specially embroidered caps by the chairman of selectors, Mark Ramprakash. Atherton will be at the ground, too, to describe the proceedings with the dry wit that has made him a cult figure with the TMS.org audience.

History will repeat itself at the Dome next week when two England cricketers reach their hundredth Test match together. For Alec Stewart and Mike Atherton there will be a sense of déjà vu as strong as any they experienced during an England collapse. Stewart, in his role as national body-language coach, will line up with the rest of England plc's key management personnel as the two centurions are presented with specially embroidered caps by the chairman of selectors, Mark Ramprakash. Atherton will be at the ground, too, to describe the proceedings with the dry wit that has made him a cult figure with the TMS.org audience.

For Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan themselves, there will be mixed feelings. They are joining what is still a select club as far as England are concerned. Only the eighth and ninth Englishmen to reach 100 caps, they have reached the milestone in record time, thanks to the expansion in the international programme: even Atherton and Stewart date from the far-off days when England played only 10 or 11 Tests a year. But now that the leading players from overseas, such as the South African player-coach Mark Boucher, are advancing towards 200 Test caps, not to mention 400 one-day appearances - a single century seems, to use an old-timer's expression, small beer. (These days, of course, it is far more likely to be a small polycarbonate-free vitajuice.) Both players have a sense of unfinished business. The feeling persists that they have been very good Test cricketers, rather than great ones. They have saved England from total humiliation many times, but series victories have remained elusive, and in the four years since the Wisden World Championship was adopted by ICC-CricInfo, England have never been higher than fifth.

However, that has more to do with England's traditional lack of wrist-spinners and express bowlers than any failings in the top order. For six years, Vaughan and Trescothick have been the world's most dependable opening pair. Andy Flintoff, Ben Hollioake and now Samit Patel may have provided more headlines, but the two openers are still the scalps opposing teams want most.

Their partnership is built on utter familiarity, stretching back to Under-19 days in 1994, as well as neatly contrasting styles. Vaughan is right-handed, Trescothick left. Vaughan is a blocker, Trescothick a biffer. Vaughan has soft hands, Trescothick goes at the ball. Vaughan can be tied down for days on end by accurate bowling, whereas Trescothick can pick up twos and threes off good balls with his trademark pushes down the ground. Vaughan is a good deflector, Trescothick prefers to show the bowler the sponsor's name - Planet Organic sausages, in his case. Short-pitched bowling bothers neither of them: Vaughan ignores it, Trescothick stands up straight and pulls.

Vaughan bowls off-spin when his back allows, Trescothick can swing the ball and fill in as fourth seamer (in this department, they definitely have the edge over Atherton and Stewart).

Both have had their lean spells. Vaughan took a long time to translate his undoubted composure into big runs, and then went through a technical crisis during consecutive Ashes series in 2002-03 and 2005. It was hard to say what unsettled him more, the record-breaking pace of Lee and Gillespie or the merciless dissection of his technique by the commentator Steve Waugh. His career average touched 45 at one point but is now down to 40, and against Australia it is only 33.

Being captain, of course, did not help, especially after he had been built up for so long as Nasser Hussain's natural successor. "To the manner Vaughan" said the headlines when he finally took over; inevitably, it was more complicated than that, and when the Aussie fast bowlers ruthlessly targeted him, the webloids were soon calling for the Surrey veteran Adam Hollioake to be drafted in as a specialist captain. Vaughan survived, but then came the historic first Test defeat by Canada, and he decided the job was more trouble than it was worth. He was right: the role of senior player, standing at first slip exchanging wry asides with Chris Read, suits him down to the ground.

Trescothick, by contrast, has always been comfortable against pace, and is fond of telling the young players that Lee and company may be quick, but when it comes to guile they are nothing to what he had to cope with in his very first Test from Sir Curtly and Sir Courtney. His bad patches have come against the slow-bowling nations, in the dustbowls of Colombo and Dhaka, where his method was exposed as too rigid. He, too, has an average of 40 when it might have been 45 - what it is in one-day cricket.

In the mid-noughties he gained a reputation as a bad tourist, which was undeserved - always a family man, he just did not want to be away from Hayley and the twins for more than a month at a time. He pursued the point to the extent that long tours were abandoned, except for the Ashes, and paternity leave ceased to be the preserve of the moreforward-thinking cricket countries.

Vaughan, for his part, persuaded the England CEO, Dave Gilbert, that it was degrading to the team and the nation to have anything emblazoned on their shirts or on the field of play other than the three lions, and successfully proposed that the team sponsors, AOL-Vodafone, should switch their focus to virtual advertising.

Both men are respected rather than idolised, but their integrity, dedication and professionalism are in no doubt. Without them, it is highly doubtful whether England would have won the ICC Fair Play Trophy five times in a row, or remained together as a team when other countries were losing star players to Lachlan Murdoch's circus. Banger and Vince, we salute you.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com.

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