WOULD Michael Vaughan still be England captain if they had beaten South Africa at Edgbaston yesterday? The answer, reading between the lines of the comments he made at today’s press conference in Loughborough, would appear to be yes.
Vaughan revealed that he had made a decision earlier this summer to go if England failed to gain a series win over the Proteas. Given that they looked set to square the series at tea yesterday, I can only assume that he would have carried on had results turned out differently.
But if the timing of the decision has come as a surprise – there is still the final Test of the series to come at The Oval, after all – there was a growing sense that something had to give as a weird summer for English cricket moves towards its climax.
While it would be an exaggeration to say that Vaughan seems to have spent a chunk of the summer fighting a battle against his own selection panel, it’s clear that they haven’t always seen eye to eye.
Vaughan’s suggestion that the selection of uncapped seamer Darren Pattinson for the second Test against South Africa was “confused” was merely putting in diplomatic terms what a lot of cricket experts were thinking.
Ian Botham used the words “illogical”, “pathetic” and “diabolical”. Mike Atherton went for “puzzling” in a recent column for The Times, suggesting that those responsible for picking the side were fudging the issue when he wrote: “Is it not time the selectors took a bit of responsibility and did what they are paid to do?”
When England chief selector Geoff Miller confirmed that he had held clear-the-air talks with Vaughan 11 days ago, and it became obvious that something had to change.
Throw in Vaughan’s admission that he was taking the stress of the job home with him, and it’s easy to understand why he decided to call time.
England’s recent Test record has not been good – three defeats in the last five series – but it’s a shame that an excellent captain’s reign had ended so abruptly, three-quarters of the way through a series.
He is, in terms of Test wins, England’s most successful captain ever. And given that he was the first England captain since Mike Gatting to win the Ashes, he must be considered among the most successful by other criteria, too.
Vaughan’s batting, it is true, has suffered, particularly towards the end of his captaincy. His decision to concentrate on rebuilding his form back at county level with Yorkshire is a wise decision; particularly if he manages to get back to his best in time to help England take on the Aussies again next summer.
He may well be needed if the strains of captaincy take the same toll on Kevin Pietersen, the man widely tipped to take on Vaughan’s job.
Once the shock of Vaughan’s exit has dissipated, I hope he is judged kindly. And maybe, just maybe, England’s selection panel will have learned a little from this summer too. Chopping and changing the side around can sometimes do more harm than good.
If those lessons are learned, and if Vaughan rediscovers his form and his appetite for cricket, today’s resignation may not do England too much harm in the long term. Whether it will create enough momentum to carry England to Ashes victory next summer, I’m not too sure.