Stephen Brenkley: Hussain hands over a fractured legacy

The trial of captaincy
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is a long, long time ago now since Nasser Hussain was captain of England. His era endured for four years and 27 days, and it is less than a week since its abrupt, emotional end. It was another age. The events of the Second npower Test have conspired not only to push Hussain's tenure deep into history, but also to cast a shadow over the worth of his legacy. The notion of "The king is dead, long live the king" could have been invented for this moment.

It is only to be hoped that it is not being said again soon. The Vaughan Period has been replete with unfortunate occurrences. Time has moved on swiftly, forced forward by the bludgeoning bat of South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith. When Hussain dropped him on eight at Lord's on Thursday his time seemed to be up in every sense. It was an inadvertent act of finality.

Vaughan will know that plenty of England captains have lost their first match in charge - the eight who preceded Hussain, for a start - but none can have been given quite such a pummelling. Hussain dedicated his office to building a resilient England, a team of men who, if they were not the best in the world, were tough cookies. It was in his mission statement at the very start. In June 1999, he occupied a seat in the same position in the same room at Lord's where Vaughan sat on Wednesday, and declared: "There are only two qualities, really, ability and toughness. It comes down to that."

At the beginning of this season he was still bridling with intent. "I still believe that England are a better side when I'm in charge," he said. It did not take long to disabuse him of the notion. Two victories over Zimbabwe merely postponed the inevitable. Maybe, despite his chirpy mood in May and again only a fortnight ago, he had had enough in the winter.

Throughout England's unsuccessful campaigns for the Ashes and the World Cup, he had the look of a man worn down by the cares of office. It was not just the cricket, although that was mostly bad enough. When the politics got too much for him as the Zimbabwe crisis refused to recede, he threatened to resign. He felt let down.

He could have gone then easily, but Hussain was so proud to be captain of England that he could not give it up. Four long years of his life had gone into it. He resigned the one-day captaincy, but Australia have shown that the two could be split. Hussain thought he could continue. But two dismissive victories over a hapless Zimbabwe were no guide, and Hussain knew it. He told the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, that his time was up, as he said he would.

"I was surprised initially, but not surprised when he started to talk," said Graveney. "I don't know, when a side are 398 for 1 [as South Africa were after the first day at Edgbaston], a lot of things can happen inside. That was a horrendous day, but it was obviously something that had been on his mind.

"It was not an instant decision. He had thought about it for a long time, and you have to respect that decision and not try to reject it. I simply said that he might think about it during the day, consider what to do, talk to people, and if he asked me again at the end of the day I wouldn't try to change his mind."

Nothing became Hussain's intense term more than his going. Yet the first thought, that he had indeed left England in good shape, considerably better than he found them, is about to be given the most searching of examinations.

It is almost heretical to say it considering the justified plaudits that he received after his resignation, but in a way Hussain got lucky. He won his first Test match, but the side lost the series to New Zealand. England were dreadful, too often lacking direction or gumption, but he was just formulating his plan. Then Hussain found what he needed, what all captains need: a pair of opening bowlers. Andrew Caddick was restored to favour, Darren Gough recovered from injury. They shared the new ball for 25 consecutive Tests. During that time England won four consecutive series: against Zimbabwe and West Indies at home, and, most wonderfully, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka away. The pair were not always the match-winners, but they were a class combination.

England were never again to be so potent. The following summer, Australia had the measure of the pair, and they were never to be together again. The upshot partly is that England have won two series in the last eight, against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe at home.

Naturally, Vaughan will bring a different approach to captaincy. Nobody could be like Hussain. Those staring eyes, unblinking, serious, always showed that he meant business, that this was no light-hearted affair. Sometimes he could be so saturnine that he needed only a dark cloak to be the spit of Bela Lugosi in Dracula.

He was a good and proud captain all right, animated and never afraid to try things, ready to show that he was the boss. But the facts are that in his last earnest series, against Australia, England were given the runaround. Against South Africa last week, they were outsmarted in every department.

It is this that Hussain has bestowed on Michael Vaughan: bowlers who are naïve, inexperienced or spent, a batting order which is decidedly fragile in some key middle-order positions. Vaughan spoke of the young talent he has in the side. But it is young talent learning on the job. Under Vaughan so far, England have batted, bowled and fielded appallingly. He deserved a rosier honeymoon, and it is to be hoped that when he gets married this autumn his real honeymoon is not like this.

"He's a different guy but he's a very steely bloke," said Graveney. "The succession to Nasser or who would take over if he was injured has been discussed often. People shouldn't make the mistake that he's just a laid-back guy. He'll be as demanding as Nasser, but he'll do it in a slightly different way.

"It'll be difficult. You're one of the lads and you're elevated to the captaincy from that same group. You have to stand aside, stand back from the players. But I don't see that as a problem. In the one-dayers I thought he did brilliantly in the relationships he developed in a very short period. I think he surprised everybody."

Before the next Test, certainly before this series is done, Vaughan has to stamp his authority as captain and let the selectors know what side he wants. They had better agree. It is now clear that he is desperately unfortunate. He has a team of apprentices. The role of Duncan Fletcher, England's coach, will be crucial. Somehow he has to convince the players that they are good enough and still take pressure off Vaughan. "He's fantastic," said Graveney.

Vaughan was born in Lancashire, but to all intents and purposes he is a Yorkshireman. He emigrated early enough to inherit their stubbornness and self- belief yet none of their misguided bluster. The last three Yorkshiremen to be appointed England captain were Len Hutton, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth. One of them won six out of seven Tests, two of them won the Ashes. For the moment, Vaughan would settle for a wicket.