Peter Hayter continues by looking at the skippers
(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.
(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.
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