| Vaughan’s criticism may not do the new players any good
London: Michael Vaughan has a lot to learn, not just as captain but as a motivational speaker.
His analysis of the fourth Test at Headingley was bizarrely damning and left no room for English optimism going into the last match of the series against South Africa.
In effect, Vaughan all but presented his opposition with the series on Monday by arguing England’s players were unable to cope and that the problem was endemic.
While coach Duncan Fletcher put England’s difficulties down to an inexperienced attack comprising four specialist bowlers sharing just eight caps before Leeds, Vaughan, perhaps frustrated in defeat after a game which was closely contested for the first three days, went further.
English county cricket, he suggested, repeating a well-worn line of argument, continues to produce fearful, overworked, mentally soft cricketers short on fire and brimstone and incapable of making the step up to the top level.
“Maybe it’s the fear factor,” he said. It was hardly a vote of confidence in the newcomers in his side.
Seamers Kabir Ali and James Kirtley as well as batsman Ed Smith will surely be expecting a rapid return to the county ranks.
Yet England’s more seasoned players, largely shielded from county cricket nowadays by central contracts, were no more impressive than their fresher-faced teammates at Headingley.
Vaughan, one of the world’s leading batsmen, also failed badly, as he acknowledged, and has now made 126 runs in seven innings since his century in the first innings of the first Test.
Indeed for many observers, the pivotal moment in England’s 191-run defeat involved two of the side’s more battle-hardened campaigners.
Mark Butcher and Marcus Trescothick had rattled along at six runs an over to take England to 164 for one in reply to South Africa’s first innings of 365 when they decided to take the offer of bad light.
South Africa were delighted at the reprieve.
“It definitely helped us regroup, we were getting hammered at that stage but we had some harsh words in the dressing room and were able to refocus,” said captain Graeme Smith.
The England pair duly lost momentum, the upper hand and their wickets on return, followed by Ed Smith first ball next morning. England’s hopes of a first-innings lead departed with them.
The decision lacked judgement and ambition but Vaughan refused to blame the batsmen who took it. “Hindsight is a funny thing,” he said.
He preferred to highlight other critical moments — England’s failure to capitalise after reducing their opponents to 21 for four on the first morning, their failure to break through again with the score at 142 for seven, their inability to stop Andrew Hall clattering 99 not out off 87 balls on a suspect pitch in the second innings.
Clearly, England’s attack, without the retired Darren Gough and the injured Andy Caddick, lacks punch and control.
“We just haven’t got a banker bowler,” Fletcher said. “Caddick did that for us. When we had Gough as well we had a really good bowling attack. We want Andrew Flintoff to be a batting allrounder and he’s ended up being our main strike bowler.”
England’s thin resources suggest another South African success next month in the fifth and final Test at The Oval.
Go down each name in the two team sheets and there are few Englishmen who would demand to be picked ahead of their counterparts. Vaughan — when in form — Butcher and Andrew Flintoff might be the only candidates.
If English cricketers are short on ruthlessness, they will need as much motivation as possible from their captain to compete at The Oval in an attempt to level the series.
It might also be worth reminding Vaughan that South Africa looked little more than a sorry-looking rabble themselves a few months ago at the World Cup.
Their new captain, however, has proved a master in positive thinking and his team, not so surprisingly, have responded to that leadership.