Michael Vaughan: 'It's all about the future'

At the end of an extraordinary week, the England captain tells James Lawton why his side must quickly move on from their great triumph

His priorities for a long time, he declared yesterday, are to do with the future and not the astonishing

glories of the past summer when the Ashes became English property again. "More than anything," the England captain, said yesterday, "I want to keep my team honest. I want them to focus more on what they can do in the future than what they have already achieved. I know that's a lot, in some ways they exceeded all my hopes, but great teams have a hunger which the Australians displayed for so long - and I think they will show that again when we go there in 18 months' time. It means that starting this winter in Pakistan and India we all have one great obligation. We have to grow. We have to believe that we have started a job that we must finish."

As the "boys of summer", including new legends like Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff and Kevin "KP" Pietersen, relax away from the front line, their captain has spelled out the imperative that must stay at the front of their minds. "They have created huge expectations in the nation and they must meet them. We all have that duty," Vaughan said.

As Vaughan relived the Ashes campaign - he told of how he delivered his version of the "England expects" speech to the young hero Pietersen in the Oval pavilion last Monday, how he and the coach, Duncan Fletcher, forcefully reminded the players of the challenge they faced on behalf of the nation and themselves as they gathered in the Edgbaston committee room for the critical second Test following a savage defeat at Lord's - his thoughts invariably turned to the future. At times he echoed the speech of Britain's most successful golfer, Nick Faldo, after he won back-to-back US Masters titles. Then, Faldo said: "The British public may understand how hard it is to get to the top of the world in any sport. What I sometimes doubt is if they know how hard it is to stay there."

Plainly, it is a problem Vaughan has already engaged, even before the Oval cheers, and those of the great victory salute in Trafalgar Square, have lost little or none of their resonance.

After working with young competition winners at his county Yorkshire's indoor academy, and for his sponsor, Quorn, Vaughan would make only one firm promise to the team which he led into history. "Their places in the team are guaranteed only by their hard work, their willingness to do again what they did so magnificently when it mattered this last summer.

"What's most exciting of all to me is the possibilities of the future. The [possibilities] have to be so good when this young team have beaten the number one team in the world in the most incredible circumstances.

"The pressures and the challenges went way beyond what we expected with the levels of expectation going into the last game at the Oval...and they were asked to bat the last day out, and they did it so convincingly. That told me I had so much character at my disposal, but then I also know that you are only as good as your back-up... It means that you have to keep building and it's so important we keep getting young players pushing the team and making sure everybody stays honest... That is what it is going to take to stay in the team."

For Vaughan, the moment of everybody's truth came in the Oval pavilion at lunchtime on the last day of the final Test of the series which was played as though it was the last will and testament of one great team and one that aspired to be so.

He took Pietersen to one side for the one-on-one that provoked the innings that finally delivered the Ashes. "In the morning I told everyone that they just had to bat as if was not the last day but the first. We had to score runs, we had to get some distance on the Aussies. At lunch Kevin had just been peppered by Brett Lee in one hell of an over, but I sensed that he had survived not playing his way. So I just told him to go out and play positively because we knew an hour and a half of Kevin and everything would be ours anyway."

That was the last stroke of the leadership that some of the old guard of English cricket, most notably the former Ashes-winning captain and chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth, openly questioned when Vaughan was appointed captain in place of Nasser Hussain two years ago.

Vaughan grins when he is asked if his mail has been filled with distinguished apologies. "No, I haven't had too many responses from those who said I was maybe too soft for the job, that my body signals on the field were not tough enough. I did have a wry smile when I heard that because I've always had the confidence to believe that good comes through in the end, and it's been the same with my batting. If I have a few bad scores, I do know I'm good enough to score runs and I back myself.

"It's the same with everything, you are judged on your results and that's what I've tried to hammer home to the team. It's all very well talking about the confidence that comes with consistent selection, and the Australians talked a lot about that ... but that's OK when you're a winning team. When you lose, you have to accept your position is in doubt if you're not playing well."

In all the glory of the Oval triumph, the personal agony of Ian Bell did not escape the captain. "I told him he shouldn't be too hard on himself. If you're going to have a pair you might as well have them against Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, the best bowlers in the world. I told 'Belly' that he should draw confidence from the fact that he has played seven Tests and that anyway, you generally learn more from your failures than your successes. The fact is he did some valuable work in the series and he is clearly a fine player."

For himself, acclamation from the game's Old Contemptibles can wait. "My emotional moment came when we pulled up in Trafalgar Square. Then it hit me that we had carried cricket to a level in this country which I had not really thought was possible. The wonderful thing was that in my bones I always felt we could beat the Australians, and that's what was so painful about the first Test at Lord's. It worried me that we had been beaten not in performance but mentality.

"Before the second Test at Edgbaston a lot of hard talking was done. I said that all the achievements of the previous two years would be wiped away if we couldn't beat Australia. I said that of course they were a great team, they had so many champions, but we had the potential to be great. It depended on our mentality, our willingness to take ownership of some of the most vital decisions, and not just leave it to the coach or captain.

"If we could beat this team, we would have something to build on in an unbelievable way. And then what we did at Edgbaston and Old Trafford and then Trent Bridge was win the respect of the Australians. They already had ours, but we had to win theirs and we started right from the one-day games. At the end, they were fighting with everything they had. There was a tremendous feeling between the teams, but at the vital points - and there were so many through the summer - all the old edge was there.

"For example, Warney gave Paul Collingwood a real sledging when he came out to bat. He said that the only reason Paul was in the team was that he caddied for the captain. It meant that the only time we could relax and say the game and the series was ours was when we got to 270 runs ahead and 'KP' and 'Gilesy' were batting, and you could sense this tremendous relaxation spreading along the balcony. Twenty-five thousand fans were singing that we had won the Ashes.

"It was the greatest feeling we had ever had as cricketers, and when I embraced the team I said that we should never lose sight of what had taken us to this time and place. I said that players like 'Freddie' and 'KP' had stuck their hands up when everything had to be fought for and won and that no one had let down the team.

"That is a wonderful thing for a captain to be able to say." It is also, Michael Vaughan made clear yesterday, highly addictive.