The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From handling the ball to blunting the best

Michael Vaughan is a normal bloke who is abnormally good at batting, which is why the whole of Australia has taken to him despite belting their bowlers for 633 runs in a losing cause at an average of 63.3. It is a combination few possess and one that could see Vaughan at the top of the tree quite soon.

Kerry O’Keefe, a leg-spinner for Australia in the late Seventies who now commentates for radio, reckons Vaughan is the best batsman to visit Australia since Vivian Richards, which means O’Keefe regards him more highly than Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, two modern giants of batting. It would be high praise coming from Vaughan’s mum and dad let alone an Aussie keen on bagging Poms.

Vaughan’s rise, like that of Reginald Perrin’s Grot shop, appears to have happened overnight. One minute he was a possible, dour, like-for-like replacement for Michael Atherton, next one of the most revered stroke-makers in world cricket. To prove it, his innings in Sydney was one of the greatest seen at the ground and crucial to victory, while his century at the MCG, having none of the controversy attached to it as in Adelaide, almost gave England the chance of an upset.

Seasoned watchers of Yorkshire talk of a similar transformation a few years ago in county cricket, where the Boycott in him suddenly realised his technique was good enough to sustain risks as well. Suddenly, he began clouting bowlers to all parts of Headingley.

His England career has had a similar trajectory, going from the cautious but fraught beginnings of his debut in Johannesburg three years ago, where he calmly watched England slide to two for four before he faced a ball, to today’s run fest. Back in Jo’burg, he made an assured 33, scoring high marks for unflappability in the face of high-class fast bowling from Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock on a treacherous pitch.

In Australia, he has probably been the best batsman on either side, something the adjudicators felt when they made him Man of the Series. Certainly he had to face better bowlers than his main rival, Matthew Hayden. Yet he made only one score over fifty when the series was live, 177 in the first innings in the second Test in Adelaide.

Where Vaughan really scores over his talented rivals is in his conversion rate. Since resuming his Test career 13 months ago, he has reached fifty eight times but turned seven of them into hundreds, most of them big ones. Like a game show host, he goes on and on.

The physical frailty that has held him back in the past is still there and he played most of this series with a dodgy knee and with a hairline crack in his right shoulder. It did not affect his style, which his tallness (6feet 2inches) accentuates and he combines spirit and discipline, a balance hard to maintain. His mental focus is strong, too, and his captain, Nasser Hussain, says trying to communicate with Vaughan just before he goes into bat is like talking to a brick wall.

The main reason for his success in Australia is his ability to pull the ball that pitches just short of a length. On true pitches, that is the area bowlers use to try to notch up dot balls. Vaughan, as he did to Jason Gillespie in Sydney and as Hayden has done to Caddick, dispatches them through the on-side for four or six, an unusual shot for a tall man to play well. He may be slim like Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas, but there is enormous power and in his arms and wrists.

His driving is no less potent, though, and with coach Duncan Fletcher’s close tuition, he now plays spin as well as anyone. Only when he handled the ball in Bangalore has he ever panicked against spin, the second England player after Graham Gooch to be given out for such an offence.

Where, perhaps, he further scores over his close rivals is his view of the outside world. In Melbourne, he went with his girlfriend to watch the musical Oliver. It may be his ability to switch off that is his greatest asset. From now on, expectations, like the rewards, will be huge.

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