Vaughan's goal two years in the making

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The Independent Online

Two years ago last week Michael Vaughan outlined his dreams as England's new captain. Today he can glimpse achievements that must have been beyond the wildest of them.

Two years ago last week Michael Vaughan outlined his dreams as England's new captain. Today he can glimpse achievements that must have been beyond the wildest of them.

If his team can beat Australia in the first of seven one-day internationals it may fuel a self-belief that could provide an impetus for the rest of the summer. Vaughan played that notion down yesterday.

"The one-dayers generally haven't in the past," he said. "England have won 3-0 before and then the first Test but lost the Ashes. It doesn't really have a massive effect. But it's important that individuals start to play well, get their own game in order, have some success, go into the Ashes series full of confidence. Winning breeds its own momentum." So he is not planning to lose then.

If anything he is less excitable than he was back in June 2003 when, by his lights, a pursing of the lips constituted the necessity to enlist on an anger-management course.

The only thing that seems to give Vaughan away - and you would have to make your living as a television celebrity psychologist to make anything of it - is a tendency to rub his nostrils with thumb and forefinger when the going gets tough. Then again, it may just be hay fever.

"My hair's falling out," he said yesterday by way of demonstrating how the responsibility was affecting him. The reality is that not a hair on his head has been turned. "I try and be the same person. All I ask for is 110 per cent no matter what we're doing, when we're training and preparing and on match days. After that they can do what they want."

There lies the kernel of Vaughan's leadership in the last two years. He is indeed relaxed, trusting of his players. But if one were to let him down or take advantage of his trust he would doubtless express his disappointment to them wholeheartedly. There is an inner steel and a refusal to be messed with.

He is at once different and not so different from his immediate predecessor Nasser Hussain. No player would be advised to mess with either of them. But Vaughan's door is more obviously ajar. If he had a policy in June 2003 it was on the importance of communication - to let players have their say.

"I think communication around the team is pretty good," he said. "We're open and we've got a good spirit which has come from being together and working together, doing a lot of things together. Of course winning helps your spirit. People believe in what you're doing and gain confidence."

The great imponderable, naturally, is what creates what. Does the spirit lead to the winning or the winning to the spirit? In Vaughan's case he has built on what Hussain left him. It was a healthy business which was ripe for expansion: the heir has realised the potential.

There is some suggestion, and some statistics to support it, that Vaughan's form is not what it was when he was not captain. He is no longer the No 1 Test batsman in the world and he is still a fairly stodgy one-day player. Only occasionally as, crucially, against Australia in the ICC Champions Trophy last September, has he revealed his true hand.

"As soon as the first hundred comes, I'll be better," he said, painfully aware of his most serious shortfall. "Batting at No 3 I feel I've been a lot better. In the last 15 games I've had a reasonable record, starting last summer. I like the position."

For the record his average there in the past 17 matches is 43.31, slightly distorted by a couple of candy-snatching-from-kids exercises against Zimbabwe. But better it undoubtedly is.

The decision to move Geraint Jones back down to No 7 alone though shows that Vaughan is prepared to be hard-headed for the sake of the team. It was made late (Jones had already been led to believe he was nailed down as one-day opener at least at the start of the summer) but the point is that it was made.

Vaughan is probably not one to suffer from existential angst, even after two years in this job, and that is an attitude he definitely tries to pass on to the team.

"When they have been challenged they seem to get more excited, they don't feel daunted by the pressures," he said. "They just want to go out and express themselves and that's what I'll be impressing on them.

"They play the game as I like to see it, they're not scared, they don't fear the situation, when you're young you don't have inhibitions, you go out and play and have a go." Having a go begins to enter a new dimension today.

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