Michael Vaughan stepped down as England captain on Sunday with the timing that finally deserted him on the field but with his reputation intact as his country’s most successful leader.
Vaughan led his team to a record 26 victories in 51 Tests and was at the helm for the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series when England beat Australia for the first time in 18 years.
A batsman of lyrical grace at his peak, Vaughan matured into a canny, innovative captain with a streak of under-stated toughness which won him the respect of the cricketing world.
But after South Africa took an unbeatable 2-0 lead in their four-match series on Saturday, Vaughan concluded that it was time to jump before he was pushed after five years in charge.
”It’s the hardest decision I ever had to make, but also the easiest,” Vaughan told a news conference.
Vaughan (33) exuded class from the moment he stepped into the Test arena against South Africa in November 1999.
He drove and pulled the ball with sublime grace and timing, touching greatness in 2002 when he scored 900 runs in seven home Tests against Sri Lanka and India before scoring three centuries opening abroad against the formidable Australians.
England were in disarray when Vaughan made his debut but he had the good fortune to enter a team on the way up captained by the fiercely driven Nasser Hussain and coached by the meticulous Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher.
In 2003 Hussain decided he had taken the team as far as he could during a home series against South Africa and resigned in favour of Vaughan, who had won the respect of the dressing room as one-day captain.
Vaughan made an instant impression as a calm, undemonstrative leader in contrast to the more volatile Hussain.
He formed a fruitful rapport with Fletcher and enjoyed the good fortune to inherit a team blessed with fast bowler Steve Harmison and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff reaching the peak of their form.
In 2004 England won a series in West Indies for the first time since 1968 and won all seven home Tests against New Zealand and West Indies.
Normal service against Australia appeared to resume when England lost the first Test at Lord’s in 2005 but the remainder of the series was all England with Vaughan decisively out-witting his opposite number Ricky Ponting.
Frustratingly for Vaughan and England, his team were unable to take the next step and replace the Australians at the top of the world.
Vaughan and fast bowler Simon Jones suffered career-threatening knee injuries in India and Flintoff’s left ankle gave way.
In Vaughan’s absence, England were thrashed 5-0 under Flintoff in the return Ashes series in 2006-7 and the World Cup campaign in the Caribbean under Vaughan early last year was unsuccessful.
Vaughan returned as Test captain last year with centuries against West Indies and India.
But tellingly in his second stint he lost against India, Sri Lanka and South Africa while winning twice against a depleted New Zealand team and once against the weak West Indies.
He now struggles in the field with a right knee that has required four operations and he has averaged only 22 in his last 10 Test innings.
To his credit Vaughan has decided not to try to soldier on regardless into the 2009 Ashes series and, despite his optimism that he can still return to Test cricket as a batsman only after standing down for the Oval test, his international days are probably numbered.
If he is not sighted again in Test cricket Vaughan leaves memories of some glorious batting and a captaincy record which places him among the best skippers produced by his country. – Reuters