Vaughan set to emulate Brearley's golden spell

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The Independent Online

Ian Botham, David Gower, Graham Gooch, Bob Willis. Michael Vaughan's team does not yet contain players with the legendary status of these four but following England's victory over the West Indies in the first Test on Monday this current group of cricketers have a genuine chance of equalling, and possibly breaking, England's previous best run of Test results.

Ian Botham, David Gower, Graham Gooch, Bob Willis. Michael Vaughan's team does not yet contain players with the legendary status of these four but following England's victory over the West Indies in the first Test on Monday this current group of cricketers have a genuine chance of equalling, and possibly breaking, England's previous best run of Test results.

This took place in the 12-month period between 28 July 1978 and 15 July 1979, when England won nine of the 10 Tests they played against New Zealand, Australia and India. Since defeating the West Indies by 10 wickets in Jamaica earlier this year, Vaughan's team have put together a run which has seen them win seven of their last eight Tests against Brian Lara's side and New Zealand.

The West Indies made England work hard for their win at Lord's but they remain a brittle and inexperienced outfit. They have also shown a propensity for completely falling apart while on tour and because of this England will fancy their chances of going one better than their predecessors over the coming weeks.

Four of England's seven victories have come against the West Indies, who have spiralled downwards in alarming fashion since the Eighties and early Nineties when they used to dominate world cricket. But Vaughan's side are not alone in exploiting the misfortune of opponents who are in a rut.

The England side that toured Australia in the winter of 1978-79 under Mike Brearley's captaincy also played against weakened opposition. In this period Kerry Packer lured the majority of Australia's best cricketers - Dennis Lillee, Rodney Marsh, Greg Chappell, David Hookes, Ashley Mallett, Lenny Pascoe and Doug Walters - into playing World Series Cricket. This left England to play a six-Test series against a depleted side.

"They were a bit short of quality players but it was a keenly contested series," said Graham Gooch, England's highest run-scorer in Test cricket and a veteran of the tour. "It is wrong for people to say they were no better than a school side because they had some good players. I admit they were not as good as those they lost but in the end they unearthed a couple of good 'uns in Allan Border and Kim Hughes.

"We played some good cricket," Gooch added. "We had a quality bowling attack which was led by Ian Botham and Bob Willis and backed up by the likes of Mike Hendrick and John Lever. We also knew that the Aussies couldn't play off-spin and John Emburey and Geoff Miller had a great time.

"Lubo [David Gower] had just come on the scene and he was cutting a dash, and Boycs [Geoff Boycott] was still a fine player - even though he was at the back end of his career - and Derek Randall was a very good Test player. We were well led by a captain who was unsurpassed. Brearley knew how to handle everyone, whether you were a public schoolboy or a bloke like me from a comprehensive. He had the respect of every player.

"We were also excellent in the field. Gower and Randall stopped everything square on each side. Beefy [Botham], Hendo [Hendrick] and Embers [Emburey] caught everything in the slips."

After trouncing New Zealand 3-0 at home in 1978, England won the series Down Under 5-1, losing the third Test in Melbourne by 103 runs. England then won the first Test of the next summer against India by an innings and 83 runs at Edgbaston.

Vaughan's only blip came in Antigua when a certain Mr Lara decided to break the world record and score an unbeaten 400. But in this match England managed to hang on for a draw.

The averages - eight batsmen averaging over 40 and two bowlers averaging under 25 in 2004, compared with one batsman and seven bowlers in 1978-79 - indicate how the game has changed but it would be wrong, and very contentious, to say that one team was better than the other even if the current New Zealand side are far stronger than the one which visited these shores 26 years ago.

Continuity helps any side and both teams used only 16 players during their periods of success. It is also worth noting that eight members of each side missed no more than one match.

Gooch feels there are other similarities. "Both teams have had fast bowlers of a similar style [Willis and Stephen Harmison] firing on all cylinders and an action-man all-rounder producing the goods [Botham and Andrew Flintoff]" he said.

"Gower and Graham Thorpe are different players but they perform the same job. Gower was an artiste. He was a genius. Thorpe is a technician. He is more solid but Gower took risks. He was the sort of player you went on to the balcony to watch. The only thing they haven't got is a nutter like Randall!"

How England today compare with the boys of '79

The captains

Mike Brearley

The former Middlesex opener is widely regarded as England's best captain. There are leaders with greater win ratios but few have commanded such respect and none has won as many Tests for England - 18. He had an iron will, an active mind and Ian Botham, and now works as a psychotherapist.

Michael Vaughan

Thrown into the captaincy when Nasser Hussain resigned 12 months ago, he struggled initially but installed a hard-work ethic in the side in Bangladesh. His laid-back style has given his players greater freedom to express themselves, but the true test comes next summer against Australia.

The spearheads

Bob Willis

The Warwickshire fast-bowler is England's second highest wicket-taker with 325. His long, ungainly run-up was unique but through remaining tall at the crease when he let go of the ball he extracted steep bounce out of even the most benign pitch. Once in the England set-up he seldom played for his county.

Stephen Harmison

The Durham paceman has a loose-limbed, slightly West Indian run-up and action. Before England's tour of the Caribbean many felt he was wasting his potential but his 23 wickets against the West Indies there and his 21 wickets against New Zealand are the main reason for England's run of form.

The run-scorers

David Gower

Bowling at Gower was a nightmare. The left-hander had so much time you felt he could have played three shots by the time the ball reached him. Is third in England's list of run-scorers. Towards the end of his career his laid-back style annoyed the management and this cost him several Test appearances.

Graham Thorpe

On his Test debut he scored a hundred against Australia at Trent Bridge. The left-hander has been England's best batsman since, but has not got as many hundreds as he should. Problems in his domestic life kept him out for a while, but he has returned with renewed hunger and in excellent form.

The all-rounders

Ian Botham

Arguably England's greatest cricketer. In 102 Tests he scored 14 hundreds and took 27 five-wicket hauls. He also took 120 catches. The former Somerset, Worcestershire and Durham player will be remembered most against Australia in 1981 when he regained the Ashes almost single-handedly.

Andrew Flintoff

The Lancashire all-rounder is looked upon as England's modern-day Botham. He hits the ball thunderously and takes wonderful catches, but his bowling has yet to reach the same heights, lacking the class of a young Botham, who was a great bowler before back injuries took their toll.