James Lawton: Vaughan's next trick should be to bring England back from cloud nine without crash landing

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The Independent Online

Nearly two decades of comic ineptitude by many of their predecessors, not to mention the England football team, provided much of the fuel for the extraordinary celebration that has flowed more or less non-stop since those last epic hours at the Oval six weeks ago. It means that Michael Vaughan is now required to play the ultimate trick of any significant captaincy.

The challenge is one, he can point out gently, that never confronted all those Aussie captains who kept English cricket in serfdom for so long, men like Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. They didn't have to frogmarch their men off cloud nine. In their winning moments they could luxuriate in the knowledge that for their teams winning the Ashes, reminding the world that they were the best team around, was a professional chore rather than an out-of-body experience.

This state of mind became embedded between the years between 1987 and 2005. It became the Aussie code, one familiar to all the great champions of any sport. You win and then you put it aside because suddenly the most relevant victory is not the last one but the next.

England do not have this underpinning of long experience of winning as they engage the first days of the rest of their cricketing lives but undoubtedly there are reasons for optimism. Ashes victory did represent the climax to a trend of increased success and efficiency. It wasn't quite the miraculous transformation it was often painted.

It is also true Vaughan was talking about the need for his team to "stay honest" when the rampage of glory in Trafalgar Square and the Prime Minister's back garden was just a day or two into a foggy past.

This week the great hero of the summer, Andrew Flintoff, turned clear eyes away from the best-seller list and said, "Our profiles have gone through the roof after the Ashes triumph but playing in Pakistan will be totally different for England and will be quite a challenge."

No doubt helping to sober Flintoff was the first delivery he received from the "Rawalpindi Express", Shoaib Akhtar, in the nets while on duty for the Rest of the World team Down Under. It flew viciously shoulder high and it said: Welcome back to Earth. That may have been a gratuitious gesture considering Flintoff's so far wholesome reaction to instantly huge celebrity, but it would be naïve to believe that for some of England's team this week the return to the workplace will not have its jarring moments.

How, when you consider the scale of the distraction over recent weeks, the TV interviews, the book signings, the personal appearances, the clatter of cash registers, could it be otherwise? Pakistan's knowing old coach, and former England batsman, Bob Woolmer, has certainly not been slow to cast doubts about his opponents' ability to hit quickly the straps which left such weals on Ricky Ponting's back - and soul - in the English summer. He says he is intrigued by "post-Ashes England".

That seemed to be a question mark not against a set of cricketers but a euphoric state of mind. He said, "England will either continue on a roll and be very difficult to beat because they will be so good or, and they won't know it is happening even if they discuss it, they find it difficult to get up for Pakistan in the same way as they did against Australia.

"I'm not underestimating them, but I'm interested to see if they can motivate themselves the same against us as they did against the Australians, as much from a coaching viewpoint than anything."

Round about the time Woolmer was saying this his opposite number, Duncan Fletcher, a man of a legendary restraint in the matter of personal projection, was sitting down with a representative of the second national newspaper to have bought rights to a memoir apparently so anodyne it makes the average football recollection seem like a cross between Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler. But there it was all over our breakfast tables, another recounting of cricket's version of Trafalgar.

No, you cannot blame the boss and the boys for the "greening" of the Ashes. The time of their financial lives had come, and if the result was some of the most benign literary endeavour since Barbara Cartland, only a churl would carp at the rewards of real achievement in this age of contrived celebrity.

However, this doesn't answer the question posed so cunningly by Bob Woolmer.

Will England leave the glory of an unforgettable English summer on the cutting room floors of book editors and TV hosts? Or will they remember the truth that made the men they conquered champions for so long, the one that says the real winners move on to the next challenge before the smoke of battle has cleared. The latter question is no doubt the one Michael Vaughan will be putting to his men with most force in the next few days. Let's hope, for the sake of the national conscience if nothing else, he gets the right answer.

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