Vaughan has little time to lift England spirits

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The Independent Online

After his seven-week trial in charge of the England one-day side, Michael Vaughan will find out what it is really like to captain his country when he leads his dumbfounded team out at Lord's in tomorrow's second Test against South Africa.

The rise of Vaughan from a batsman who had plenty to prove when he arrived at Lord's 14 months ago to the captain on whose shoulders the immediate future of English cricket rests, has been meteoric.

The Yorkshire opener's place was not under threat before the first Test of the 2002 season but in the 16 Tests he had played for England, he had scored one century and was averaging 31.15. Nobody doubted his talent and temperament but he was underachieving and his Test career was beginning to draw comparisons with those of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick, two high-quality batsmen whose performances for England had failed to live up to expectations.

Today Vaughan returns to Lord's as English cricket's most influential and important figure. England captains may no longer sit on the selection committee, but the image and direction of the game in this country will be in the 28-year-old's relatively inexperienced hands.

For Vaughan, the timing of Nasser Hussain's resignation is dreadful. After his successful start as leader during the recent one-day series, he was always going to be the man to take over from Hussain. That seven-week trial would have allowed Vaughan to look at the five Tests against South Africa as an opportunity to ease himself gently into Hussain's shoes.

However, Hussain's shock decision on Monday evening gave Vaughan only 48 hours to collect his thoughts and decide how he can lift England out of the rut they find themselves in after their disappointing performance in the first Test at Edgbaston. They say that a week is a long time in politics but seldom can the momentum of a Test series have swung so violently in a seven-day period.

In the lead-up to the first Test, everything was going England's way. Most of the players were in top form and their opponents were struggling. Indifferent performances, talk of unrest in the South African team and the loss of their leading player, Jacques Kallis, due to a family bereavement, had even given Hussain the feeling that the tourists were "there for the taking".

But for Hussain's decision, England would have arrived in London the happier of the two teams after getting away with a lucky draw. South Africa, tired from their exertions, would have been ruing their luck. Mentally the position of the sides would have been similar to the aftermath of the third Test at Old Trafford in 1998. England were 1-0 down in the series but scraped a draw after being outplayed for five days. The momentum changed sides and England went on to win the last two Tests and the series. However, it is hard to believe such a positive spin can be put on the current predicament. The tourists will have travelled down the M1 with a little extra pep in their bodies.

Despite his inexperience Vaughan will have little trouble winning over his players during the build-up to this crucial Test. Nine of the 12 selected have already played under him during the NatWest Series and, as former England captains, Hussain, Alec Stewart and Mark Butcher will be keen to help out.

After watching the way he consistently looked to attack during his games in charge, tactics do not look like being a problem. His toughest challenge will be getting his players to focus on this match and not be distracted by recent events.

While Vaughan settles in, the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, has a vital role to play. Unlike Hussain, Vaughan is not the sort of character to march into the dressing-room and announce he is charge. In the short term, Fletcher has to fill that hole left by Hussain. He will need to be wise and not overshadow Vaughan, because a lot more takes place and more decisions must be made in a Test match than a one-day game.

Even before Vaughan became captain it was easy to see the respect England's players had for him. Such regard has not come solely from the volume of Test runs he has scored in the last 14 months - 1,739 at an average of 72.45 - nor from the fact that he is now compared to Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara rather than Hick and Ramprakash. The manner in which his colleagues relate to his pleasant, laid-back character is just as important.

When Vaughan was awarded the one-day captaincy in early May, he said he would lead the side in his own way. Unlike Hussain, who ran the team autocratically, Vaughan wanted to involve the other 10 players in the decision-making process. With a squad of young players who wanted to feel involved, this proved to be a shrewd decision.

To have a new captain with a contrasting style of leadership is good for the team because he brings a fresh approach and exciting new ideas. But his appointment may not be good news for older players like Graham Thorpe, who are hoping to break back into the side. It is unlikely that Vaughan's vision will include those whose commitment has been questioned.

VAUGHAN'S RAPID RISE TO THE TOP

1974: Born Eccles, Manchester, 29 October .

1993-94: Captains England Under-19 in Sri Lanka, and at home against India.

1994-95: Tours India with England A.

1999-2000: Makes Test debut for England against South Africa at Johannesburg, scoring 33 and 5.

2001: Scores maiden Test century against Pakistan at Old Trafford. But a knee injury rules him out of the entire Ashes summer.

2002: Begins an astounding run of Test match success when he makes 115 in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's. He follows up with scores of 100 at the same ground in the first Test against India, 197 in the second Test at Trent Bridge and 195 in the fourth at The Oval.

2002-03: Makes 177 on the first day of the second Test against Australia at Adelaide and 145, his sixth century of the year, in the fourth Test at Melbourne.

2002: Scores 1,481 runs in the calendar year, a total second only to the West Indian Viv Richards' 1,710 in 1976.

Scores 183 in the second innings of the final Test, taking his tally for the series to 633 runs - the best aggregate for an England batsman on an Ashes tour for 30 years - and wins man-of-the-match and man-of-the-series awards .

6 May 2003: Named captain of England's one-day team.

27 July: Scores eighth Test hundred in just over 12 months in first Test against South Africa at Edgbaston.

28 July: Appointed England Test captain after Nasser Hussain steps down.

Test record:

M I NO Runs Ave HS 100/50

31 53 3 2,549 50.98 197 9/5

One-day record:

M I NO Runs Ave HS 100/50

35 34 3 805 25.96 83 0/6

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