| Jacques Kallis celebrates the dismissal of Mark Butcher on the final day of the fourth Test in Leeds on Monday. (Reuters)
Leeds: Michael Vaughan launched a scathing attack on English cricket just moments after his side was crushed by South Africa on Monday, arguing the players were weighed down by fear and lacked a ruthless streak.
The England captain, whose side lost by 191 runs at Headingley despite appearing to hold the upper hand on several occasions, said: “Why did we lack ruthlessness' It’s a good question. I think over the last few years a lot of England teams have been very similar.
“When you get on top of oppositions as good as South Africa you have to really make those situations count. We didn’t do that here and we have not done it in the past very well.
“Maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s to do with attitude, the way we are brought up in our game. It has happened a hell of a lot in the past, this wasn’t the first time and it’s something we have to look at.
“Maybe it’s the fear factor. Maybe it stems from the amount of cricket we play. English players have had this laid-back attitude. We play so much county cricket that it can get boring, a treadmill. We don’t get enough time in the nets to work on our skills,” said the England skipper.
“County cricket is not producing mentally tough players. It needs to be looked at.”
Agreeing with a recent newspaper article by former England captain Michael Atherton, Vaughan added: “Fear is a key element of English play. Maybe he is pretty spot on.”
England reduced South Africa to 21 for four on the opening morning and 142 for seven later in the day but could not kill off the first innings as the last three wickets added 200 runs.
The home team then failed to take a first-innings lead after reaching 169 for one and their bowlers also missed out in the second innings as South Africa added 205 for their last five wickets.
“From 142 for seven, you shouldn’t allow them to get 365,” Vaughan added.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith suggested earlier in the tour that he sensed a lack of intensity in the England team but he would not be drawn into it on Monday.
“I don’t know how much England wanted it, but our boys definitely did, they showed immense hunger to do well... A lot of guys stepped up to the plate in this game.”
“I’m extremely delighted. After being 21 for four, I told Gary (Kirsten) when they (England) were nine down, ‘did you think we would be in this position'’ But the boys showed tremendous character,” said Smith.
South Africa pulled things back whenever they were swinging out of control and restricted England to 307 after they had reached 169 for one in the first innings. “It helped us,” Smith said.
Man-of-the-Match Gary Kirsten said his teammates were urging him to reconsider his decision to retire.
“I said this would be my last series but the guys have been putting some heat on me.
“I haven’t made any decision but by the time I head back to South Africa I think they’ll be demanding a decision. I’ll speak to my six-month pregnant wife and see what she says.”
The 35-year-old left-hander has played in 92 Tests but has already quit ODIs. He averages over 40 in both forms of the game. In the series against England he is averaging 68.60.
Kirsten praised Smith, his Western Province teammate. “He gets aggressive and that’s important. Sometimes you can be going through the motions in a five-day Test. He’s done an outstanding job in making sure the guys refocus each session.”
The former opener was a member of the team that lost the Test series against England at Headingley in 1998. “That was a long time ago. Sitting in the dressing room having lost the series was a particularly depressing moment.
“So coming back to this ground putting and in a performance like we have, coming back to the changing room celebrating, rather than sulking is personally very gratifying.”