At long last, South Africa has managed to win a series in England for the first time in 43 years. Led by the clunky but combative Graeme Smith, they turned in a performance deserving of the margin. They were slow to start with; following on and somehow managing to reach close of match at Lord’s. However, as they began to improve, England’s decline started getting momentum.
Michael Vaughan is arguably the best England captain, but the fact is that he seems to have been captaining from memory of that summer in 2005. The Ashes was the peak of his powers, shrewd decisions timed to perfection, the consistent firepower of Simon Jones, Freddie, Hoggard, and the eternally truant Harmison, the blossoming of Pietersen, not to mention the convenient loss of form of the Australian batsmen, in particular, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist. This series in particular have seen at least one minor incident that can be construed as communication gap between the selectors and the men who matter in the team (Vaughan and Moores). The whirlwind selection of Darren Pattinson over Hoggard who deserved a look-in at the very least seemed to have caught Vaughan by surprise as much as Smith and Arthur. England lost the Test at Headingley and questions were predictably raised of Pattinson’s selection, with Vaughan even dubbing it as “confused”.
This may be a small matter in professional sport, but when you consider momentum for winning, I believe that it could work the other way too. England had let slip the initiative at Lord’s (not to take anything from Prince’s fighting century) and were clearly outplayed at Leeds. The result: South Africa found out that their plans were working, with Dale Steyn was making Vaughan a mini-bunny (if ever there’s such a thing like that, considering that a bunny is already an urban legend in international cricket), while England were steadily slipping towards confusion and negativity.
Following the loss in the third Test, there were already whispers that if Vaughan didn’t quit, then he would have got the boot. This has been acknowledged by Virgil himself, when he decided to “pack it in”. His batting was woeful, he was beginning to feel the strain of that on his captaincy (putting too much pressure on KP is always counterproductive) and above all, the injury to Freddie put paid to the balance he desperately needed in his bowling lineup to rattle South Africa.
Considering all that, was Vaughan right in throwing the towel, with the dead Test to go at the Oval and the opportunity to go out on a pyrrhic high? There have been some voices that he was wrong in quitting when he could have left with some pride intact by motivating his team for one last hurrah. The added incentive would have been to groom KP for the role (though Strauss had a claim to captaincy, albeit his slump is worse than Vaughan’s). But English cricketers are a proud lot, and they would rather go themselves than be kicked out. And Michael Vaughan for one doesn’t want to be kicked out, for if he is and wants to think of retribution, that knee won’t be so accommodating as the English public.
This post is by co-sports-afficionado Nearpostheader. Welcome to spamsport, Nearpostheader.