The last captain to lead England to a Test series win in the Caribbean became Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge. If the present skipper can emulate the feat 36 years on the notion of Lord Vaughan of Sheffield should not be entirely discounted.
It is unquestionable that Michael Vaughan, as he remains for now, has a wonderful opportunity to begin rectifying England's wretched record in the West Indies. Since Colin Cowdrey, as he then was, snatched a 1-0 victory in a series played in perpetually taxing circumstances in 1968, England have made six visits. An unlikely drawn series 30 years ago has been followed by five consecutive losing rubbers, in at least two of which England could consider themselves lucky to finish second. For most of the intervening period West Indies were in their unalloyed pomp. But now they are vulnerable, bereft of the fast-bowling resources that helped them to bestride the world for so long. and consequently lacking in consistency and confidence.
West Indies were badly beaten recently in South Africa. In four Tests, the home side's lowest first-innings score was 532, they scored 12 centuries and averaged an extraordinary 68 runs a wicket. West Indies have won a mere 13 of their last 51 Tests. They have not been the side they were for eight years, and the side they want to become has shown little sign of emerging. Yet history is not easily overcome, and it will still be remarkable if Vaughan can clinch victory.
He is acutely and astutely aware of the shortcomings of English cricket, as he emphasised last week. "Every England captain for the past 20 years has come out and said there must be structural change in the county game. Nothing seems to happen. If I'm the one lucky enough to hit the nail home then great," he said.
Vaughan said that if the England and Wales Cricket Board's mission statement to make England the best side in the world by 2007 was to come true, something had to happen. "There's no good just talking about it. There has to be change. That's what English rugby set out to do. It changed and they are now world champions. But it didn't happen overnight. A lot of people wanted [Clive] Woodward out after the 1999 World Cup. It wasn't all plain sailing but the will was there. That was the crucial thing. The hierarchy believed in what Woodward was doing and backed him all the way. And the clubs got together with the national team to make it happen. Both those things must happen to English cricket."
Vaughan is clearly tougher than his relaxed exterior suggests. He said that the environment English cricketers were brought up in was a problem - "and I'm not just talking about cricket". But he thinks that the Rugby World Cup win might just be the best thing to happen to his game because it might concentrate minds. "The England team were given all the resources they needed to deliver - and they did. Without long-term backing, finance and support you are not going to compete on the international stage. Woodward made sure no stone was unturned. His planning and preparation were meticulous. Rugby realised that the national team are the shop window for the country and made it the number one priority. Cricket must do the same. Whatever the national team need to be successful must be provided."
Yet in a cash-strapped game in which the counties must have their share of a diminished cake, England have just made redundant their computer analyst, the man who chronicles every ball so strengths and weaknesses can be worked out. That is what Vaughan is up against.
Despite precedent, England will still begin as marginal favourites for the forthcoming series, but that is down to West Indies' weakness as much as England's strength. The home side are in a state of disarray. Their confidence is shredded, and while their batting is full of flair its fortitude is supplied almost exclusively by Brian Lara. The likelihood is, however, that this will be a series for batsmen to prosper. West Indian pitches are slower than they were, but run-rates are holding up well. Australia managed 3.94 an over there last year, just below their regulation rate.
Vaughan himself will need Vaughan's runs for his stewardship to be a monumental success. It would have been superhuman of him to have stepped into Nasser Hussain's shoes immediately. He was elevated overnight and had no time to plan a strategy. But before Vaughan took office his Test average was 50.98, in the nine matches since it is 33.47.
He will also be concerned about England's batting, which never got to grips with Sri Lanka's pitches and was lamentable in the four-day defeat in the Colombo Test. Although it is worth recalling again that the batting took England to one of their greatest wins of all at The Oval last September, the fact is that if it fails now, it should not be given opportunity to fail again.
The chief problem for both sides, however, is likely to be how to bowl out the other twice. The attacks are inexperienced and lacking the eternal verities. For England to win, one of James Anderson, Stephen Harmison or Simon Jones (assuming he finally gets the selectorial nod after his outing for England A in India) will have to return a hero. Jones, coming back from injury, will also be propelled by the thought of his father, Jeff, who was a key member of Cowdrey's 1968 team, taking 14 wickets in support of the great John Snow's 27.
West Indies will not give up lightly their record against England, and Lara, who will probably be reappointed as their captain, has come up with some inapposite remarks about the side's desire to do well against the old colonial power.
First blood will be crucial. England cannot afford time to ease themselves into a four-Test series, to be followed immediately afterwards by seven one-dayers. (England's one-day record in the Caribbean is also terrible, with only four wins in 22 matches).
If England start well they could win, but a drawn series might be acceptable. Given the haste with which honours are now handed out for sporting achievement, victory this spring and the Ashes next year would see Vaughan wearing ermine before he's 35.
Tour itinerary and squads
Squad: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) age 29, caps 40; M E Trescothick (Somerset) 28, 43; M A Butcher (Surrey) 31, 61; N Hussain (Essex) 35, 90; G P Thorpe (Surrey) 33, 83; P D Collingwood (Durham) 27, 2; A Flintoff (Lancashire) 26, 29; R Clarke (Surrey) 22, 2; C M W Read (Nottinghamshire, wkt) 25, 8; G O Jones (Kent, wkt) 27, 0; A F Giles (Warwickshire) 30, 30; G J Batty (Worcestershire) 26, 4; J M Anderson (Lancashire) 21, 8; S J Harmison (Durham) 25, 12; M J Hoggard (Yorkshire) 27, 22. Possible: S P Jones (Glamorgan) 25, 2.
Itinerary: March: 1-3 Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica; 5-7 Vice-Chancellor's XI, Kingston; 11-15 First Test, Jamaica; 19-23 Second Test, Trinidad; 26-28 Carib Beer XI, Barbados. April: 1-5 Third Test, Barbados. 10-14 Fourth Test, Antigua.
Squad: M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt) age 29, caps 39; M E Trescothick (Somerset) 28, 74; A J Strauss (Middlesex) 26, 1; P D Collingwood (Durham) 27, 42; A McGrath (Yorkshire) 28, 10; A Flintoff (Lancashire) 26, 66; R Clarke (Surrey) 22, 11; I D Blackwell (Somerset) 25, 18; G J Batty (Worcestershire) 26, 3; A F Giles (Warwickshire) 30, 35; C M W Read (Nottinghamshire, wkt) 25, 23; R J Kirtley (Sussex) 28, 10; J M Anderson (Lancashire) 21, 27.
Itinerary: April: 16 One-day tour match, Guyana; 18 First One-Day International, Guyana (reserve day 19 April); 24 Second ODI, Trinidad; 25 Third ODI, Trinidad; 28 Fourth ODI, Grenada. May: 1 Fifth ODI, St Lucia; 2 Sixth ODI, St Lucia; 5 Seventh ODI, Barbados.Reuse content