Eng­land greats

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS - Peter Hayter, The Cricket Pa­per’s es­teemed cor­re­spon­dent, looks back over his years of re­port­ing on Eng­land around the world and iden­ti­fies the great­est over this pe­riod. The cap­tains, con­tin­ued ...

Peter Hayter con­tin­ues by look­ing at the skip­pers

Michael Vaughan

(Tests 51, Won - 26 (50.98%), Lost - 11 (21.57), drew - 14 (27.45%)) Un­like a string of cap­tains be­fore, the stylish York­shire bats­man had the good for­tune to be in the right place at the time Eng­land were blessed with a group of world-class play­ers, but it was his pos­i­tive and dy­namic lead­er­ship that turned them into a world-class team.

As Nasser Hus­sain’s ten­ure grew to­wards its close, much of the smart money was on Marcus Trescoth­ick but Vaughan got the nod, mainly on the strength of his bril­liant bat­ting in the pre­ced­ing 12 months, dur­ing which he scored 1,533 runs in­clud­ing seven 100s, three of them in the un­suc­cess­ful 2002-03 Ashes, in which he amassed 633.

But although the Som­er­set man was dis­ap­pointed to be over­looked, he had no qualms about the even­tual choice, writ­ing in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that, while Vaughan ex­pected the same pas­sion as Hus­sain had de­manded, “he wanted us to be in­spired more by the thought of what we might achieve if we ex­pressed our­selves freely… not driven by the need to avoid fail­ure, to prove we weren’t as bad as peo­ple thought”.

Vaughan could be tough on those he felt re­sponded best to the stick, mainly his fast bowlers, and that oc­ca­sion­ally caused con­flict but those he felt he could trust to look af­ter their own game he left well alone, an ap­proach that mirrored his coach Dun­can Fletcher.

Test vic­tory in South Africa in 2003-04 meant Eng­land viewed the 2005 Ashes with some­thing ap­proach­ing op­ti­mism and a more cau­tious leader would have kept a win­ning side in­tact.

But per­haps Vaughan’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion to Eng­land’s first win over Aus­tralia for what seemed like for­ever was to act on his con­vic­tion that, who­ever else played, a place had to be found for Kevin Pi­etersen, even though it was at the ex­pense of their most re­spected and ex­pe­ri­enced bats­man, Gra­ham Thorpe.

On the eve of the se­ries Vaughan ex­plained: ”No dis­re­spect to Gra­ham or the teams of the past 18 years but they were full of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers. Our at­tempts to win the Ashes have largely been based on ex­pe­ri­ence and we haven’t com­peted.Why not go for young and po­ten­tially ex­cit­ing new play­ers and back them to rise to the chal­lenge? “How that gam­ble paid off when KP played the

in­nings that clinched Ashes vic­tory for his side at The Oval. Sadly, a cat­a­logue of nig­gly in­juries meant Vaughan’s ca­reer was ini­tially dis­rupted then even­tu­ally cur­tailed and he did come in for crit­i­cism from those who felt his at­tempts to con­trib­ute from the side­lines, how­ever well-mean­ing, were in­ap­pro­pri­ate and counter-pro­duc­tive.

But he will al­ways have 2005, for which English cricket should be truly thank­ful.

An­drew Strauss

(Tests - 50, Won - 23 (46%), Lost - 11 (22%), Drew - 16 ( 32%) De­scribed him­self as a stand-in for a stand-in when, for the home se­ries against Pak­istan in 2006, he took over from An­drew Flintoff, who him­self had led the side to a cred­itable 1-1 draw in In­dia as Vaughan’s deputy.

But, as Flintoff had only got the job on the Sub-con­ti­nent be­cause Trescoth­ick had quit that tour early through ill-health, Strauss could be re­garded le­git­i­mately as fourth choice for the job of Vaughan’s short-term re­place­ment. And, even though he led his side to an ex­cel­lent 3-0 vic­tory that sum­mer, the mood for change which ac­com­pa­nied the ar­rival of new coach Peter Moores af­ter Eng­land’s Ashes de­feat Down Un­der and another duff show­ing in the 2007 World Cup, meant that, by the time he reached Napier for the fi­nal Test of the 2007-08 tour to New Zealand, he was prob­a­bly one fail­ure away from be­ing dis­carded.

The Mid­dle­sex left-han­der se­cured his place there with his ca­reer best 177, but when Vaughan re­signed in tears im­me­di­ately af­ter de­feat to South Africa the fol­low­ing sum­mer, Eng­land shunned him again – turn­ing in­stead to Pi­etersen – and he would have been for­given for think­ing a pat­tern was emerg­ing.

It was only when Moores and Pi­etersen were both sacked fol­low­ing the cap­tain’s be­hind the scenes machi­na­tions to get the coach re­moved that Eng­land fi­nally aban­doned their any­one-but-Strauss pol­icy and turned to the boom­ing-voiced, Radley-ed­u­cated “Lord Snooty” to get them out of an un­holy mess.

Strauss’ part­ner­ship with former Zim­babwe skip­per Andy Flower could have started bet­ter, too.

The two had for­mu­lated a phi­los­o­phy to present to the play­ers shortly be­fore fly­ing to the Caribbean in early 2009, which Strauss later de­scribed as fo­cus­ing on “re­ally sim­ple con­cepts, such as al­low­ing play­ers to think for them­selves, the team com­ing first, con­cen­trat­ing on us and con­stantly try­ing to im­prove”.

But, in the first Test in Ja­maica,West Indies ham­mered them by an in­nings and 23 runs, bowl­ing them out in their sec­ond in­nings for 51.

A two-hour meet­ing in An­tigua, venue for the next Test, was the turn­ing point, Strauss him­self showed the way with

Sadly, a cat­a­logue of nig­gly in­juries meant Vaughan’s ca­reer was ini­tially dis­rupted then even­tu­ally cur­tailed

three suc­ces­sive hun­dreds in An­tigua, Bar­ba­dos and Trinidad and, fol­low­ing The Great Es­cape in the first Test of the sum­mer against Aus­tralia, his 161 in the first in­nings of the sec­ond Test at Lord’s gave Eng­land the mo­men­tum they needed to clinch a re­mark­able Ashes vic­tory.

Flower and Strauss, the “An­doc­racy”, kept things sim­ple.

Backed by pi­o­neer­ing but never over­whelm­ing work from their statis­ti­cians they set­tled on a pol­icy of con­tain­ment with the ball and had the pace bowlers to carry it out, with Graeme Swann com­fort­ably Eng­land best spin op­tion for as long as any­one could re­call. Runs came from a set­tled top three of Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott at No.3 and fire­power from Pi­etersen and Ian Bell in the mid­dle or­der.

It was a pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion that earned Strauss his finest hour as cap­tain, win­ning the 2010-11 Ashes in Aus­tralia – the first time Eng­land had done so since 1986-87 – and tak­ing them to the No.1 on the ICC Test rank­ings.

For Strauss, is­sues with KP which had been bub­bling all through the 2012 sum­mer came to a head with ‘textgate’ and en­sured the end of his cap­taincy was al­most as chaotic as the start had been.

Fifth choice for the job he may have been, but, in join­ing Len Hut­ton and Mike Brear­ley as one of only three men to win Ashes se­ries home and away, Strauss’ record stands com­par­i­son with the best.

Alas­tair Cook

Tests- 58, Won 23 (41.38%), lost - 21 (36.21), drew 13 ( 22.41%). No bats­man has scored more Test runs for Eng­land than Cook, nor more hun­dreds, nor cap­tained them more of­ten, nor won more caps.

But for sup­port­ers of Pi­etersen, his record will al­ways be over­shad­owed by their per­cep­tion that the Es­sex man stabbed their hero in the back when, in 2014, two years af­ter they first left him out over ‘textgate’, the ECB re­sponded to Eng­land’s 5-0 de­feat in Aus­tralia by sack­ing the mav­er­ick bats­man for good.

Though grossly un­fair, crit­i­cism that Cook be­trayed his team­mate stuck, chiefly be­cause, in the age of so­cial me­dia, KP and his acolytes were able to flood Twit­ter­land with wave af­ter wave both of poi­sonous in­nu­endo and in­sults.

Per­haps the worst but un­ques­tion­ably the most dam­ag­ing flowed to mil­lions of fol­low­ers from TV per­son­al­ity Piers Mor­gan, who char­ac­terised Cook as “Ju­das”, wrote that he wouldn’t trust him to take his dog for a walk and, just for good mea­sure, called him a re­pul­sive lit­tle weasel and Eng­land’s worst ever Ashes tour cap­tain.

Pri­vately, Cook felt that he was hung out to dry by the ECB, whose si­lence over their rea­sons for Pi­etersen’s dis­missal, and who had ac­tu­ally made that de­ci­sion, placed Cook bang in the fir­ing line.

Ham-fisted at­tempts to leak in­for­ma­tion to the me­dia only made mat­ters worse and, af­ter Eng­land con­trived to lose the early sum­mer se­ries against Sri Lanka, Cook, worn down by a storm that showed no signs of abat­ing and by a con­tin­u­ing lack for form with the bat, came within a whisker of quit­ting.

Draw­ing on re­serves of stub­born­ness on which he rightly prides him­self, Cook re­solved to stay put and was vin­di­cated, first by the re­sponse of the crowd to his 95 in the third Test against In­dia at The Rose Bowl then by the re­sult, a con­vinc­ing win over MS Dhoni’s side.

Yet more con­fu­sion and up­heaval was to fol­low, how­ever.

First, af­ter los­ing the ODI cap­taincy he watched Eng­land flop in the 2015 World Cup and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Paul Down­ton dis­missed for be­ing out of touch with the mod­ern game.

Then, af­ter Eng­land failed to put away a West Indies side de­scribed as “medi­ocre” by in­com­ing ECB chair­man Colin Graves, coach Peter Moores was sacked for the sec­ond time.

Next, with New Zealand and Aus­tralia about to ar­rive, Graves chose ex­actly the wrong time to make com­ments about Pi­etersen that were con­strued as open­ing a door back to the side for him, when even the bats­man him­self had given up any no­tion of a come­back.

Cook’s head was spin­ning and with most ob­servers pre­dict­ing the ap­point­ment of Michael Vaughan, a strong sup­porter of Pi­etersen, and Ja­son Gille­spie as MD, such an out­come would surely have spelled the end of his cap­taincy.

In a rare mo­ment of clar­ity and san­ity, Strauss was ap­pointed to run the shop. He plumped for un­demon­stra­tive Aus­tralian Trevor Bayliss to re­new his coach­ing part­ner­ship with care­taker Paul Far­brace and by the end of a sum­mer that had started in such tur­moil, Cook had led Eng­land to an Ashes win that helped erase the hor­rific mem­o­ries of his last at­tempt.

Cook’s cap­taincy has al­ways been more about his runs than tac­tics, and even though he has al­ways stressed how much of an hon­our he feels the job to be, has also made no se­cret of the fact that he would love to fin­ish his Eng­land ca­reer back in the ranks.

With Joe Root ready to take over, de­feat in In­dia this win­ter may well have has­tened that out­come.

My way: Michael Vaughan points the way to an Eng­land re­vival

Ashes win­ner: Alas­tair Cook with the urn

Call me No.1: An­drew Strauss with the mace earned by Test cricket’s top team

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