Something horrible is happening to me and I don’t like it. It’s coming to the point now where I am so annoyed and frustrated by the England team that I find myself just shrugging and thinking, oh well who cares? It’s not even the fault of the England team who took the field last Thursday for what was supposed to be a watershed moment, a landmark, a new beginning that was supposed to see us realise the potential we have (aside from perhaps Steve Harmison, but we’ll come to that later). Blameless are Messers Cook, Collingwood, Bell, Prior and Pietersen who all did exactly what was asked of them; blameless are Strauss and Shah who were placed in a winless situation by the deity who watched on from the stands; certainly blameless is Monty Panesar who became strike bowler, workhorse and end blocker-upper (not sure how real a word that is) all rolled into one. No the man who I blame for my feelings of frustrated apathy is none other than our Lord and Saviour, The Only Man to Captain an Ashes Winning Side in the Last Twenty Years[sup]tm[/sup], all round good egg and cricketing God Michael Vaughan.
How deluded some of us were to think that the departure of Duncan Fletcher was going to herald a return to the progressive and high-intensity cricket we saw pre-2005. In my previous article I certainly thought that Fletcher’s ego had effectively stopped him picking the right team for the first test last winter; however, it has become clear since his demise that is the unfettered ego of another man who is and will cause the England team most harm. Michael Vaughan.
One way to win a match, any match, be it cricket, rugby, football or any other team sport is to make sure you pick the best players available. How anyone could argue for the World Cup or indeed for the upcoming Headingley test match that Michael Vaughan is one of the best eleven players to take the field is beyond me. The man has seen little cricket over the last eighteen months and has found it difficult to play one or two days without getting injured, so how on earth with these factors does he get picked to play on Friday in a five day match? He has seen so little cricket since 2005 he has dropped out of the test batsman rankings, yet he is going to take the field, captain the side and, if reports are to be believed, bat at number three.
Logic, it seems, has no place in the world of English cricket.
Aside from the ludicrous situation that awaits us on Friday (which I might add is bad enough) we’ve had to deal all Test long, along with Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah, with Michael Vaughan’s shadow looming large over everything England does. He has been at Lords giving interviews; he’s endlessly trumpeted his own place and importance; he even gave away a test cap at the beginning of the match. Apart from the fact that this undermines the men who have been asked to replace him, it makes you wonder why he is SO special that he doesn’t have to play a county match to prove his fitness. Flintoff was sent back to Lancashire to see if he could get through a game, in fact an early hallmark of Moores’ tenure has been his willingness and desire for his centrally contracted and performance squad players to get some county cricket under their belts, so why not Vaughan?
It seems that he has assumed the position of an almost godlike figure within the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">England</st1:country-region></st1:place> setup. Ian Bell wants to bat number three, did so in the Ashes, and would be a logical choice to do so here… sorry, you can’t, it's Michael’s position. Andrew Strauss is made captain, logical choice as he gave England their last win, would be nice to have a new and settled captain in a new and settled team… sorry, Michael Vaughan is England captain and he always will be even if he can’t score runs forever and ever amen. I mean it makes sense doesn’t it? He won us the Ashes, the only prize in cricket worth winning. He captained us to a win against <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Australia</st1:place></st1:country-region>, the only team worth beating. He should be captain and if he’s not because of injury then we should at least ask his advice at every turn, shouldn’t we?
Then there’s poor Owais Shah. Scored 88 on debut and was rightly given plaudits for his performance. He comes back in to the team on the back of good county form and is basically told: enjoy it mate, because next match you’re going to <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Swansea</st1:place></st1:city> because Michael Vaughan is back. Now, if Shah were replacing an injured Pietersen, an injured <st1:city w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Bell</st1:place></st1:city> or even an injured Collingwood for one test match only because of a short term injury then you could credit it. They are all men who are in form and in possession and they shouldn’t be robbed of that position because of an unfortunate injury; however, to be replaced by a man who has been injury prone, out of form and hasn’t seen a test match for eighteen odd months is crazy. No wonder he looked scratchy and nervous and didn’t score many runs.
It seems that the Ashes win in 2005, instead of becoming a springboard to the world number one spot and test domination, has become an albatross around our neck. It has deluded some players into thinking that they are undroppable and have nothing left to prove, that they should be able to just walk into the team because they won the Ashes. Steve Harmison is a prime example of this and his comments since his winter debacle have engendered no confidence in the watching public and left a sour taste in the mouth. He says he has nothing to prove, that he can perform at the top level, but it appears that when the pressure moments come Steve Harmison isn’t as big and isn’t as reliable he’d like to think. He is very lucky that the only fast-fast bowler we have fit at the moment is the much derided Saj Mahmood. Andrew Flintoff is another who has appeared to live off his superhuman feats in ’05 and if reports are to be believed showed his opinion off with his behaviour at <st1:place w:st="on">Lancashire</st1:place> on Sunday.
The worst though by far is Michael Vaughan, for he has power.
Vaughan has done a lot of good for <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">England</st1:place></st1:country-region> in his time as captain and his feats, culminating in that blasted Ashes win, have been unquestionably impressive. It doesn’t mean he is above criticism though, it doesn’t mean he should walk back into the side as captain and it certainly doesn’t mean that he and English cricketing success are inextricably linked. His current behaviour and attitudes would seem to indicate, however, that he thinks this is the case and worse the selectors seem to be indulging this point of view.
This can only lead to ruin.
We might win the second test; we might even win the series. Michael Vaughan may well captain England magnificently and score mountains of runs, but as long as we continue to indulge the point of view that as soon as Vaughan is fit he’s in because he won us the Ashes (and that, I think is what it boils down to) then we are ultimately doomed to failure. The worst thing is that I can see this happening and I can’t do anything about it. It’s like watching a horrible car crash happen in slow motion while you’re stuck to the pavement and I don’t want that, that’s why apathy is easier.
In fact, I tell a lie. The worst thing is that this summer was supposed to be the start of a period of progress and renewal for <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">England</st1:place></st1:country-region>. A time where we could begin again trying to fulfil our ambitions of becoming the number one test side in the world. Instead? We’re making the same mistakes of the winter and wasting our opportunity and that… well it’s just plain criminal. Actually forget it; I’m being far too negative, I’m going to take the selectors view…
With God in our side we cannot fail.