Vaughan's numbers add up to trouble for his men

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The Independent Online

Some facts about Michael Vaughan, which the selectors, should they ever bother to begin selecting again, may or may not consider pertinent. After his controversial first-ball dismissal yesterday, Vaughan's Test batting average as captain of England is 36.2. This is all right in its way, but is merely two-tenths of a run ahead of Nasser Hussain and four runs behind Michael Atherton, his most recent full-time predecessors.

It hardly squares with Vaughan being one of the most resplendent batsman of his generation (once, lest it be forgotten, the top ranked in the world). Since the end of last summer, however, the figures show that in 19 innings his average is 29.53 and in this calendar year, in 13, it is 24.71. Vaughan is heading south faster than Amundsen.

His illustrious contemporaries, Mahela Jayawardene, Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith, his opponent in this series, average respectively as Test captains 67, 62 and 48. That is probably enough statistics. Oh, except that in the six series since he came back as captain, England have already lost series against India and Sri Lanka and are well behind in this one against South Africa.

They have beaten West Indies and, twice, New Zealand. This is the equivalent of kicking sand in the face of the seven stone weaklings and then being buried up to your neck in the stuff when the bigger boys arrive. It shows that if a case could be made for Vaughan not quite being worth his place as a batsman, he is also not achieving the results that his status as venerated leader should warrant. Yet Popes would seem to have more chance of being removed.

A huge debt is owed to a man who brought home the Ashes after a gap of 16 years. He is clearly still a smart cookie who is unafraid to try things. But there is an uneasy sense of permanence about his place as captain.

When the subject of his eventual replacement is raised, the inquisitor is generally greeted by a look or a groan which imply that they are being stupid. "Vaughan, not England captain, Good God man, you'll be suggesting the earth is flat next."

Apart from the glaring pick of Darren Pattinson, which was generally considered to be a cock-up, the current bunch of selectors have followed a constant line (indeed Pattinson may have undermined them). This is not, of course, selecting, it is clerical work. There was a cast-iron case for omitting Paul Collingwood again here (batsmen are supposed to make runs and he has not) and an unfortunate imputation that he was partly recalled because he was a good bloke in the dressing room. He scored four yesterday.

Vaughan has probably picked up some batting virus since he is playing down the wrong line so often. He has had a litany of these in his career and sometimes went into hiding with the former coach, Duncan Fletcher – some suggest they had a secret retreat high on the North Yorkshire moors. Vaughan is famously relaxed but he is becoming tetchy.

The probability remains that he will still be captain of England next year when the Australians visit. He needs only to lead the team in another three matches to overtake Atherton's all-time record. But the selectors, sooner or later, must discuss their options.

Within the team, there is Andrew Strauss, who should have been offered the job when Vaughan was out injured, and Kevin Pietersen. Outside it, the credentials of Robert Key of Kent should not be overlooked. In the England dressing room, that suggestion might not be accorded much credence, but the England dressing room is not where the team is picked. Is it?