Year of the Big Breakthrough: Michael Vaughan

Triumph for positive thinking

Stephen Brenkley@stephenbrenkley
Sunday 22 December 2002 01:00
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Michael Vaughan was 13 years old when Doug Padgett first clapped eyes on him. It was lunchtime at Abbeydale Park, Sheffield. Padgett, who was the Yorkshire coach at the time, was on the dressing-room balcony gazing at the boys knocking up on the outfield.

He cannot remember if he was drinking a cup of tea at the time. Probably not, though, because what he saw might have prompted him to spill it over the railing.

Here was this scrawny kid batting against his mates with a soft ball. They were only knocking around for fun, as kids used to do on outfields everywhere, but Padgett knew he had something. Everything that the 28-year-old Vaughan has achieved this year, the coach was probably imagining as he went down the steps to speak to the boy.

"I can't remember who we were playing except it was in the Championship, but I've never forgotten him," said Padgett. "There was just something about him as soon as he caught your eye. There wasn't an ounce on him, but he wasn't like the other lads. He wasn't just swatting at the ball the way we do when we're young and trying to hit it as far as possible. He had a balance that made him stand out, and he brought the bat down straight instead of trying to whack it across the line."

No sooner had he reached the outfield, though, than Padgett's dreams were shattered. "I found out then he had been born in Lancashire. Quite honestly I was so taken with him that I thought, 'Shit'." But it did not prevent Padgett mentioning the boy to his mates at Lancashire. This boy was too special for club parochialism; the world deserved to see him. But Lancashire were slow on the uptake.

Two years later, Yorkshire at last ended the tradition of relying solely on players born within the county boundaries. Padgett had not forgotten the scrawny kid – "You wouldn't" – and the county wrote to him inviting him to a place at their academy.

There was an imponderable, there always is with talented youth. But Vaughan swiftly demonstrated that he had the right temperament: he was unflustered. "He could hardly hit the ball off the square, but it didn't worry him and I certainly wasn't bothered," Padgett recalled. "He still had that balance and he was so willing to learn and he learnt quickly. Michael took no coaching." In 1991, Padgett gave Vaughan his first outing in the county's second team. He was still a thin kid who could not hit the ball, and Padgett still was not bothered.

There is an affecting calm about Vaughan: it is reflected in his initial stillness at the crease. And it emerged the first time he went out to bat for England in a Test match, against South Africa in Johannesburg in late 1999. England were 0 for 2 and pretty soon 2 for 4, but for all Vaughan showed the openers might have put on 300.

If he has not quite made light of the recurring injuries that have dogged his career, nor has he made a fuss. He has been carrying a dodgy knee around Australia, but it has not prevented him being comfortably England's best batsman.

This year has witnessed the inexorable elevation of Vaughan to a batsman of world class, officially sixth in the PwC Rankings, behind Sachin Tendulkar but ahead of Brian Lara. He has advanced almost by the innings, the style seeps from his strokes now and the ball fairly sizzles to the fence these days.

"He is elegant but has the concentration, too," said Padgett. "When he gets in you have to get him out. So many lads who can play a bit let you down in that regard. Not Michael."

How resplendent he has been throughout 2002. He made an early century against Sri Lanka and followed it with three more against the Indians. Then came a fifth, probably the best of them all, against Australia in the Second Test of the current series in Adelaide. Five Test hundreds in the year and it is not finished yet. In three of the five he has gone on to pass 150. And – important this – he rides his luck.

Vaughan has transformed his game. "I set out to play more positively," he said. "I realised that all the best players in the world were more attacking than I was. I got to the stage where I was no longer happy to bat for two hours and score only 20 runs."

The result has been remarkable, and the man who spotted what was possible from outside the dressing-room of a county outground suspects there is more to come. "I would definitely think he can go on to great things now for the next 10 years," said Padgett. "He has that ability to read the length so quickly, his footwork is smashing and he has turned into an elegant player. What a cricketer, the way he moves."

But there is something else which Padgett noticed early on about Vaughan. "He's not just a top-class player, he's a top-class man. I've seen him in the dressing-room disappointed with himself, but not outside the confines of that place. He's as calm as you like. Captain England? Well, it's a tall order and you don't quite know whether he'll have what it takes. Nobody does. But I can tell you he learns the game quickly, he picks things up and he won't panic."

Padgett is justly proud to have been the first to see Vaughan, happy that he has fulfilled the dream. "Yeah, it makes you feel pretty good, but don't think if I hadn't seen Michael that day in Sheffield he wouldn't have made it. He has far too much class."

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