Michael Vaughan: Vaughan stamps authority in own unique style

England captain spreads net wide for inspiration and advice but remains determined to prove he is his own man
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The Independent Online

It is 48 hours since Michael Vaughan's second Test match victory as England's cricket captain, the nine-wicket, series-levelling win at The Oval. He is now sitting behind a table in the middle of the shopping plaza at Canary Wharf, signing copies of his new book, A Year In The Sun. A queue of mostly besuited men shuffles forward. Several of them try to engage him in cheerful banter, although it is not easily done. Vaughan, while a less intense and introspective character than his predecessor Nasser Hussain, doesn't do banter with strangers.

An hour later I am guided into a back room at Canary Wharf's Reebok Sports Centre, where I am to have 45 minutes closeted with him. He rises to greet me, and I remind him that I have interviewed him before, in Melbourne in January. "Right," he says, shortly. A more effusive fellow might say "I remember" or "I thought I recognised you" even if neither was true, but that's not Vaughan's style either. Lancashire-born and Yorkshire-bred, he doesn't have much truck with standing on ceremony. The ceremonial side of being England captain will not, I fancy, greatly appeal to him.

Still, he is wearing a smart suit for the occasion, although his hair is artfully dishevelled in a way that would have been unthinkable to certain former England captains - Douglas Jardine for example, or Peter May - even when they got out of bed in the morning. But then Vaughan is the first England captain to be appointed in the 21st century, and nothing if not a man of his time.

"We must become a fitter, stronger team," he tells me, "and that [England's new fitness regime] starts as soon as we get out to [the first leg of the winter tour in] Bangladesh. I look at Tiger Woods, in the gym every day even though he's got millions in the bank and trophies galore.

"And I think that if he can drive himself on to become fitter than he already is, then so can we. I've spoken to people who've worked with him. He believes that the fitter he is physically, the tougher he is mentally. I think that's right."

Vaughan will certainly need mental toughness to deal with the pressures of a captaincy thrust upon him when he was by no means expecting it.

"I fully thought I might get the job about now, after the South Africa series," he admits. "I thought that Nass might have resigned now and that I'd take over for the Bangladesh leg."

Instead, the honour was conferred, rather as a ton of bricks can be said to be conferred, on the last morning of the first Test at Edgbaston. Prosaically, he was eating a bacon sandwich at the time.

"Nass pulled me to one side in the dressing-room, and took me through to the coaches' room. He said he'd had enough, and would I take over? He had obviously spoken to Grav [chairman of selectors David Graveney]. I said 'hand it over'."

Vaughan's book, A Year In The Sun, chronicles his annus mirabilis of 2002, when he scored seven Test centuries, became the top-ranked batsman in the world and was voted man of the series in Australia, quite a distinction considering that England lost the Ashes series 4-1.

Yet in some ways 2003 will turn out to be an annus even more mirabilis. Although his own batting form has not approached the heights of last year, he was given the one-day captaincy, then the Test captaincy, and to cap it all, at the end of this month he is getting married.

Nonetheless, it would have been nicer if the Test captaincy had not been given quite so precipitately. With only two days to go before the second Test, Hussain, to put it bluntly, dropped him in it. As a keen follower of football, Vaughan will recognise an obvious analogy; with Kevin Keegan's abrupt decision to resign as England manager following defeat by Germany in the World Cup qualifier at Wembley, shortly before another tough match away to Finland.

"Yeah, but Nass was mentally drained, he'd seen that I'd done a reasonable job in the one-dayers, and he also knew that some of what he'd call his players, the Stewarts, were going. The younger players were coming through, people I'd grown up with."

As he returned to the Edgbaston dressing-room that morning, however, Vaughan's thoughts were rather less lucid than they are now. He had effectively been handed the biggest job to which any English cricketer can aspire, but he couldn't even mention it to his team-mates, because Hussain had told him that he'd be announcing it himself at a press conference later in the day.

"So I had to keep it quiet. But the lads aren't daft. They sensed that something was not right, although I don't think anyone envisaged him quitting. They probably thought he was going to announce that he would step down at the end of series."

With Vaughan as a somewhat shellshocked captain, then - and South Africa, who had been billed at the start of the summer as a side in painful transition, suddenly looking like models of continuity - the series moved on to Lord's where not least of the challenges confronting him was to captain Hussain.

"And he's the first to admit he struggled that week," Vaughan says. "It was tough for all of us. But I had a chat with him at Lord's and told him just to go out and enjoy his cricket. He's just a player now, like Atherton was when Nasser took over, and if he can knuckle down as he did at Trent Bridge, where he got a fantastic century, then he's got an opportunity to go out on a high as an international batter. But at the same time I hope he doesn't feel that he shouldn't give me advice because he thinks it looks like the wrong thing to do."

Raymond Illingworth, just to throw yet another ex-England captain into the debate, thinks it is the wrong thing to do. The old curmudgeon has declared that Vaughan might be too soft to captain England, citing as evidence the 28-year-old's enthusiasm for collecting advice from all quarters. Illingworth is reminded, he hurrumphs, of the captaincy of Colin Cowdrey. "He would ask eight different people, get eight different opinions, and then he couldn't make up his mind which one to take."

Vaughan smiles, although not with his eyes, when I mention Illingworth's jibe. "If he thinks I ask eight players what should be the next field placing or bowling change, then he's got me totally mixed up. Equally, I don't think it's right if the players think one person is making all the decisions. Who's to say that Jimmy Anderson might not see something I don't, that Butch [Mark Butcher] won't see a field placing ... and behind the stumps I've had Alec Stewart, with 130-odd Test matches. Ray's the one getting it wrong if he doesn't think I should use that experience."

And just because Hussain was more visibly emotional, he implies, doesn't mean he cares less, or is weaker than his predecessor. "It was Nasser's style to kick the dirt, shake his head, point the finger. That's not my style. If I kick the turf I don't see how it's going to help a guy bowl line and length. But to come back and win at the Oval, obviously Duncan [Fletcher, the England coach] must have said the right things, and I must have done a reasonable job of captaining.

"You have to manage people in different ways. Those not making enough of their ability you maybe have to give a rollicking. And I do that. People say I should stamp my authority more, but they don't see me in the dressing-room, they don't know what I say. If you ask the guys what I said after the Lord's defeat I think they'll tell you I was pretty honest and to the bone. But I won't give bollockings just to look good."

While remaining his own man, he adds, he will borrow ideas from all the captains he has played under, including Hussain, Stewart, Adam Hollioake on an England A tour, and Martyn Moxon and David Byas at Yorkshire.

"But I will also take inspiration and advice from outside cricket. I've had a couple of chats with David O'Leary, for instance, although I'm not going to go public on what was said. And I've got lots of meetings set up with all sorts of people, including people in business. I want to broaden my horizons."

In his keenness to apply expertise in other sports to his own, Vaughan reminds me of Sam Torrance, who consulted Sir Alex Ferguson in the run-up to last year's Ryder Cup, and of Clive Woodward, who has made no secret of his admiration for aspects of rugby league. All Vaughan has to do now is enjoy the success of the Manchester United manager and the England rugby union coach, which of course is a tall order, although no more than the nation expects.

"The expectation levels in this country are so high," Vaughan says, matter-of-factly. "It's the same in football. Even when they're playing Brazil, people expect England to win."

Surely, though, we have every right to expect England's cricketers to beat Bangladesh? "Yeah, well, people say Bangladesh are pathetic, but they've just given Pakistan a bit of a scare. I fully expect to go out there and win, but we'll have to work hard."

In Marcus Trescothick, Butcher, Hussain, Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff, Vaughan certainly has a batting line-up capable of building big scores; the irony is that he, after building such a dazzling reputation last year, is the one out of touch. And inevitably, questions have already been asked about the impact of the captaincy on his personal form. Has he asked the same questions himself, I wonder?

"Yeah, of course. When you're thrust into this job it's hard. There've been times when it's been real intimidating, especially when we were being dispatched to most parts of the ground at Lord's and Headingley, and you think 'Where do we get the next wicket from?'. I've thought, 'Crikey, Nass, how did you do four years in this job?' And it's hard being an opener as well, although I'm not suggesting moving down the order. I never want to do that.

"I haven't played well all summer, to be honest. I got a big hundred at Edgbaston, but even there I didn't play brilliant. You just have to accept that things don't always go your way, especially after those eight Test centuries, which was beyond my wildest dreams.

"But I'll work hard in the winter to get my rhythm back. And actually, for 20-odd runs [in the first innings] I felt in fantastic nick on a belter of a pitch at the Oval. Probably I felt too good, which was why I thought I could hit that ball for four."

By contrast, I remark, Trescothick's match-winning 219 started shakily. "Yeah," he says, "it's sometimes best to start an innings scratching about." As did even "Freddie" Flintoff at the start of his thunderous 95. "Yeah." A pause. "We've got to be careful with Freddie. The expectations are massive now, and now that Alec's gone he'll probably move up to six.

"He's been dying to go up the order and he deserves that chance. But because he's a batting all-rounder we have to be careful how we bowl him. We should use him in shorter, sharper bursts, but he's so good at holding an end up because he's accurate, which persuades you to keep him bowling."

Clearly, Vaughan has already given the matter considerable thought. Who am I to contradict Raymond Illingworth, except to suggest that, from where I'm sitting, England appear to be in the steadiest of hands.

A Year In The Sun is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99. Michael Vaughan will be signing copies of the book between 1pm and 2pm at Books Etc at London Wall, London EC1, on Monday.

Michael Vaughan the life and times

Name: Michael Paul Vaughan

Born: 29 October 1974, Eccles, Manchester

Plays for: Yorkshire, England

Batting Style: Right hand bat

Bowling Style: Right arm off-break

Test Debut: England v South Africa at Johannesburg, November 1999

Best batting: 183 Yorkshire v Glamorgan in 1996

Strike rate: 57.28. Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2003

1992-93: Tours with England U-19 in India

1993: Makes Yorkshire debut and voted Cricket Society's most promising young cricketer

1993-94: Captains England U-19

1994: Makes 1066 runs in first full season

1994-99: Captains England A

1999-2000: Makes Test debut for England, makes 60 in England's only innings of rain-shortened fifth Test, named Man of the Match

2000: Makes his one-day international debut against Sri Lanka at Dambulla. April: Ranked No 1 batsman in the world

2001: Scores maiden Test century (120) at Old Trafford

2002: Scores 1,481 Test runs, a total second only to West Indies' Viv Richards' 1,710 in 1976

May 2003: Named captain of England's one-day team. July: Replaces Nasser Hussain as England Test captain

He says: "It's a great honour to captain your country and I had no hesitation in accepting. It's something that I've always wanted to do and I intend to enjoy it."

They say: "As well as being a world-class batsman, Michael is a strong character with a sound cricketing brain." David Graveney, the chairman of England selectors.

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