Vaughan is streets ahead in tactical battle of the captains

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The Independent Online

In every respect England have been the livelier side. Fielding and running between wickets provide an insight into the state of a team. The hosts have been superior in both areas. A picture appeared of Vaughan being clean bowled by Brett Lee. Not the least interesting feature of it was the sight of his partner backing up several yards down the pitch. England have stolen numerous quick singles from under the noses of a lumbering opponent.

Whereas Australia have been timid between the wickets and sluggish in the field, their opponents have been alert. Ian Bell's reflex catch at short leg at Edgbaston was typical of their work, a half-chance turned into a wicket. Australia have dropped umpteen catches and the outfielding has been leaden.

Vaughan has made the better decisions off the field. After Lord's, England were urged to change their side. Ashley Giles, Geraint Jones and Ian Bell were amongst those mentioned in critical dispatches. Vaughan observed that this team had risen to second in the rankings and deserved further opportunities. Helped by a doughty coach, he had built a purposeful outfit and did not intend to throw it all away at the first sign of trouble.

Contrastingly, Ponting has made crucial mistakes. Bowling first in Birmingham was a howler to put beside Nasser Hussain's decision to give Australia first use of the Gabba pitch. Allowing Glenn McGrath to play at Old Trafford confirmed the extent of the anxiety among the visitors.

Tactically, England have been ahead of their adversaries. Vaughan has set shrewd and imaginative fields for every batsman. He studies the psychology of the individual. Determined to stifle his opponents, the better to create doubt, he does not over-attack. Although England passed 400 in his first innings at Old Trafford, he was quick to protect the cover boundary thereby turning booming drives into miserable singles. He understands that these opponents feed on domination.

Not that his thinking is defensive. Rather he plays the pressure game. He exposes and exploits individual weaknesses, pushing a man at fine leg-slip for Justin Langer and another at silly cover for Simon Katich. Matthew Hayden is confronted with a man placed at short mid-off and sometimes another at quite close cover. Forgive the rule of thumb titles - cricket has not seen the need to create proper names for these unusual locations.

England have made better use of their resources. Ponting has asked his men to bowl long spells - in England's first innings in Manchester Lee had a stint of eight overs for 48 runs while Warne wheeled away for 27 overs. Even a few minutes break can work wonders on the mind of the most willing spinner. Gillespie, too, was given little relief.

Vaughan has survived a defeat at Lord's and a bad patch. Now it is Ponting's turn to fight back. To that end, he must restore and trust his instincts. He must also hope that he wins the right tosses and that his players stay fit. He is not suddenly a hopeless case. Already he has passed many tests - not least during the last World Cup. Now he faces his greatest challenge. His team is looking old but needs to think young.