For every Nasser Hussain century sign off or Alec Stewart being hoisted high from the Oval turf, there is a Michael Atherton duck or a Don Bradman duck when four runs away from recording a career average of 100. Michael Vaughan’s departure falls distinctly into the latter category.
An ignominious, tortuous 17 runs scored against Leicestershire, removed by a straight ball he would normally swat away, here was an unfitting end to a career which will be brought to a close on Tuesday. But then Michael Vaughan was always a player built to perform on only the biggest of stages, little else seemed deserving enough for a player of his talents.
His rise was of almost fairy-tale proportions, spotted by England coach Duncan Fletcher, who he was to form such a powerful alliance with later, in the nets at Yorkshire, Vaughan was fast-tracked into the England set-up having previously had a plain ordinary county career.
But here, in test cricket, did Vaughan find a stage to suit his talents. He adapted to life well, and began to flourish and when England toured Australia he touched rare heights, scoring 633 runs with five centuries in five tests – a run which Australia have never forgotten.
His batsmanship was at times sublime, boasting a gorgeous cover drive, he rose to become the number one ranked batsman in the world, and his opening partnership with Marcus Trescothick was influential and effective, but this would just be the start of the building of Vaughan’s legacy.
When Nasser Hussain retired, it was between the two young openers as to who would be his successor, a contest which ultimately Vaughan won, though no-one then would envisage the impact Vaughan’s captaincy would have on English cricket.
He captained the side with as much freedom as he batted; cool, yet authoritative, unflustered, but still in control. His captaincy was sparky, inventive and almost immune to pressure, and for good reason is he widely considered one of England’s finest captains.
Series wins in the West Indies and South Africa, at home over New Zealand and the West Indies again, alongside an almost-world record breaking run of test victories were testament to Vaughan’s skill as both a captain, and also his ability to meld a team, but it would be 2005 which would be Vaughan’s magnum opus.
While the series in years to come will be known as Freddie’s Ashes, it was Vaughan who led the way. Following defeat at Lords, he was the man who kept calm, urged players and management to trust in the good habits he had engendered, and led the way to defeat the Australians. The sight of Vaughan lifting the Ashes on that final day at the Oval will forever be one of the high points in English cricket history.
Sadly, as with any rise, there is always a fall. Vaughan, struck down by the knee injury that would ultimately prove his undoing, was helpless to prevent his team’s decline, as injuries and loss of form tore away at the fabric of that great side.
While that injury would have finished off lesser men, Vaughan gradually, step by step, made his return. A poor World Cup was inevitable for a player so long out of the game, but as he made his return, sadly, almost inevitably, he was diminished as a player and a captain.
High points still came, a glorious century against the West Indies on his comeback test, and centuries against India and New Zealand were glorious to behold, but these sights became increasingly infrequent. Away from home he struggled badly in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, while his travails at home against South Africa ultimately forced his resignation, tearfully, from his once beloved captaincy.
After that, there was little left for Vaughan to play for. Hopes flickered for an Ashes comeback, but with the emergence of Ravi Bopara those hopes ended. His season with Yorkshire has been little more than a struggle, wrestling against the inevitable. Vaughan was a player born for the highest stage, which he dominated for many years. Away from that he simply could not perform to the same capacity.
And as he departs now, we will remember him for what he was, a class act both as captain and batsman for England, and a man who has left a legacy which will live long in the memory.
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