Vaughan sprints round the learning curve

Caribbean Tour: Faster and fitter, leaner and meaner, England look forward to bright summer after their long winter

As England's winter wore on into summer, there was the unmistakable sense that more than the seasons were changing. Over nine Test matches and what turned out to be a mere eight one-day internationals, spread between October and May, the team palpably became Michael Vaughan's side.

As England's winter wore on into summer, there was the unmistakable sense that more than the seasons were changing. Over nine Test matches and what turned out to be a mere eight one-day internationals, spread between October and May, the team palpably became Michael Vaughan's side.

The last traces of Nasser Hussain's leadership were consigned to the past. History will be kind to Hussain's term as captain, but by the time England had drawn the one-day series in Barbados on Wednesday the shift was complete. Some of the faces may be the same but the rest is different. Not that Vaughan quite sees it that way.

"It's the England team. Never, ever say it's my England team," he said. "There'll be an England team as long as we live. It's no one's team." Vaughan is anxious not to be proprietorial about it in any way because it is not his style. Nor will he assess his own merits as a leader.

"I've no idea if I am better than before the winter began," he said. "I will never comment on that because the only people you ask are the players and what they feel. It's not for me to say; I'll just try and do it my way and hopefully get a few results and bring a few players on. At the moment it seems to be working."

But this is a team cast in his mould, and that much has become clearer throughout their tours to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean. Vaughan has insisted that the players become fitter, and if they had not done so it is doubtful whether they could have summoned the will and stamina to come back from 2-1 down and win the last game in the one-day series.

Thus, Vaughan not only led the first England team for 36 years to win a Test series in the West Indies, but also the only England team not to have lost a one-day series there. Vaughan said that while there needed to be discipline, he told the players to enjoy it.

"They have given it everything," he said after the last win. "There has been a new regime brought in which has meant we have trained harder, but everyone has bought into it and worked their socks off. I'm sure their bodies were a little bit tired, but you saw the enthusiasm they gave in the field. That's down to their work ethic. Their fitness has helped them to stay stronger, but most importantly we have stayed mentally strong."

Vaughan has also been scrupulously careful in dealing with his key player, Andrew Flintoff. He has given Flintoff a greater responsibility, promoting him up the order in the one-day team and giving him the chance to cement the No 6 position in the Test XI. There has also been a more prudent use of his bowling.

Flintoff is grateful. "It happened that we bowled as a group in the Test series and I didn't have to bowl as much as I had in the past," said the all-rounder. "I think that myself, the coach and the captain are realising how much I can do, and what I can't do, to keep me fit. Since Michael, there has been a lot more of a fitness kick in the side. We train a lot harder."

Despite the exhilarating comeback one-day victory in Barbados, the Test team are now generally deemed to be stronger because of their 3-0 series win against West Indies. In the shorter form, the team are either bedding down new players, or old ones in different roles. In the long version, they have a settled blend. Both Vaughan and Flintoff pointed out the differences.

"The Test side have got more experience with players like Thorpe, Hussain and Butcher," said Vaughan. "The one-day side are just learning, we're giving players experience all the time, and the last match was a really good learning curve. In the field, we're taking good catches and creating chances. We're progressing, we're nowhere near the finished article."

Flintoff said: "The Test side are a group who have been around a long time. They know the game and how to play. The one-day squad are exciting, with young guys who haven't played much. We're building to the World Cup, we need to get as much cricket under our belts and find out about our games as quickly as we can."

The Test defeat against Sri Lanka in December tends to cloud judgement slightly on the victory in the Caribbean, especially as Australia then went to Sri Lanka and won all three matches. It was timid batting more than anything that cost England dear in Sri Lanka, but that England side did not have Steve Harmison.

"People like Steve and Freddie [Flintoff] have bowled a lot and put so much into the team," said Vaughan. "They are going to have to go home for a week on the couch before we report next Sunday for the First Test against the Kiwis. Their missuses will just have to accept that, I'm afraid. That week off is going to be priceless. All the quicks have kept going, in the heat, bowling on hard surfaces. They just ran in and ran in all winter."

Another reason that the one-day series was not as successful as the Tests was the cancellation of three matches because of rain. This hindered the team's development - though we shall never know by how much. "It's been very hard," Vaughan said. "The tour to Sri Lanka was tough but the Caribbean has been equally tough, and that goes for every international game we have played. You've never felt you're in the game or out of it."

It is well known, and Vaughan volunteered it, that England could do with another front-line one-day batsman, and will soon need somebody in the Test team. Andrew Strauss, bemused to be selected for the one-dayers since he has an indifferent limited-overs record at county level, made a case for a dual role after two half-centuries.

"He's ambitious and it's great to have competition for places, even if that doesn't mean places are under threat," Vaughan said. But it is clear that Strauss has put under considerable pressure another link with the Hussain era - Hussain himself.

Three winter winners

Stephen Harmison

Here was a fast bowler arriving in the big time. Quick, accurate, controlled; he was transformed as player and bowler. His 7 for 12 in Jamaica was one of the great spells in Test cricket. Once the king of the wide boys, Harmison had emerged by the end of the tour as a significant one-day bowler as well.

Graham Thorpe

Having been apparently washed up last year, he again became integral to the middle order. His Barbados century (119 not out in a total of 226) in trying conditions was masterful, and his presence was always soothing. Seems to be at peace with himself again after domestic travails; there is more cricket to come.

Geraint Jones

On the eve of the final Test, Jones replaced the luckless Chris Read, who had not been given much time - actually a meagre three innings - to do wrong what it is he was supposed to have done wrong. Jones kept adequately and batted reasonably in Antigua, but he has been promised a run in the Test side.

Three winter losers

Ashley Giles

His revival in Sri Lanka was then subsumed by a decline in the West Indies, where in three Tests he bowled only 31 overs and took two wickets. His line went awry and he was too easily milked when he was not being slogged. Top bloke, the captain's friend and a great team man, but he is now struggling.

Anthony McGrath

He deserves a medal of some sort for his sheer stoicism. On both tours he failed to get a single game because rained-off matches meant there was no selection rotation. He was a surprise pick last summer when Andrew Flintoff was injured, and he has never let England down. Should be looked at again.

Nasser Hussain

Three Caribbean Test fifties, two of which were crucial, a refusal to buckle to pressure (quite the reverse); but he still looked poor, and could not disguise that the end is probably nigh. England will not unnecessarily prolong his career, as they did with Alec Stewart. Needs big runs quickly to survive.

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