Vaughan's century adds to day of Ashes mythology

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The Independent Online

How immune was he to the worst of cricket fate? Well, perhaps he could say no more than that he eluded even the fatally brilliant traps laid by the greatest spin bowler in the history of cricket.

Shane Warne, inevitably it seemed, claimed his 600th Test wicket when he had Marcus Trescothick caught behind by Adam Gilchrist. It was the kind of mesmerising strike that has carried Warne so far beyond the partisan barricades of this historic series.

Old Trafford has been in awe of Warne ever since he produced the leg spin of the ages to dismiss Mike Gatting here 12 years ago, and now the old stadium rose to salute the fullness of his reign as cricket's principal sorcerer.

But if Vaughan nodded his support of the tribute, there was no doubt he was also making his own accommodation with cricket history, and for a while there was apparently nothing to stop him. Not Warne. Not the legendary Glenn McGrath. Not a single breeze of malignance on the hot summer day.

Not until 5pm, that is. Not until the gods finally convened to say that enough was enough. Vaughan could scarcely complain. Long before lofting Australia's occasional left-arm spinner Simon Katich down the throat of Glenn McGrath at wide long on - a shot that seemed utterly irrelevant to the grand design that in the end he fashioned so brilliantly - he just might have been excused for believing he could stroll unaided across the nearby Manchester Ship Canal.

The England captain was 166 not out at the time, the prime contributor to the potential stranglehold represented by a total of 290 for 2, and he must have been in some confusion about which point of good fortune to celebrate most.

There was certainly no lack of choice. Strategically, the winning of his first toss of the coin in three was a hugely significant factor. If Rick Ponting, the Aussie captain, had prevailed yet again - and been able to hold back McGrath and Brett Lee as crack troops poised just behind the front line after their astonishing recovery - there could well have been a grave English sense that the momentum of their victory at Edgbaston last Sunday was already beginning to dissipate.

Instead, Vaughan was able to burst out of his individual batting crisis - the shadow over the amazing fightback that levelled the series at 1-1 in Edgbaston - with a string of beautifully struck boundaries. But before that breakout, the surge of more confident body language and the subliminal sense that a storm of confusion and doubt had passed, Vaughan had to face few more battles with the demons of his summer.

He was fencing somewhat tentatively, and on a mere 41, with McGrath and Warne, when the worst of those torments passed. McGrath sent down a delivery of his most finely measured menace and Vaughan stood in a fever of doubt. The ball flew off his bat and into the reach of Adam Gilchrist, but not only did the Australian wicketkeeper fail to gather it in, he also made sure it would not pass into the normally secure hands of Warne.

Vaughan, no doubt responding a little glassily, was then comprehensively bowled by McGrath - a shattering blow that was relieved only by the no-ball signal of Steve Bucknor.

The England captain might not have been broken, but there was no question he had been undermined, as he had been for much of this summer of high tension, which had yielded to one of the world's most outstanding batsman the miserable total of 42 runs in four innings and a top score of 24. Now, though, Vaughan's reaction was one that might indeed shape the course of the series, despite Australia's late recovery.

At 341 for 5, England, with the force of Andrew Flintoff still to be applied, are still in a position of some advantage, but as it is measured now the debt to their captain becomes ever greater.

Vaughan had one more successful joust with benign fate when he was on 141. Warne forced him into a rushed shot and Matthew Hayden should have pounced at slip. Vaughan was serene in his belief that his day was to be untouched by the merest hint of a setback, and he had good reason for this.

When he sent that irresolute drive into the hands of McGrath he could believe that Australia had lost fresh ground after the crushing disappointment of defeat at Edgbaston. He had come into a critical situation as a captain and an individual cricketer and he had ridden his luck magnificently.

That is a trick he will now commend to his audience that distant day when he may be interrogated about how it was that the battle for the Ashes was turned. Of course, there is a vital element to make the most of your good fortune. You have to seize the moment and you have to believe in your talent. Vaughan had no reason to doubt himself when it became clear that this was a day which was prepared to anoint him. It was his fourth century against the Australians, the sixth since becoming captain, and the 15 of his Test career.

In that battery of statistics there was one diamond of a fact. It was that this could well proved to have been the most significant day in his cricketing life.

Of course there is so much more cricket to be played and the Australians had recovered a degree of competitiveness before the end of play. They had been facing the prospect of a long and bitter stint in the field but there were alive again.

Vaughan's comfort is that, as never before, he had taken the chances that came to him.

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