Of Vaughan and his Valiants

Let's wait until after the Oval to discuss how good England are, how far Australia have slipped. They will still lead the world ratings if they lose this series 3-1 but that will be a false position.


Good wishes... from Brett Lee to Michael Vaughan.-AP

YOU may or may not believe this, but it is only a month since England lost to Australia in the first Test of the Ashes series by 239 runs, one of the biggest margins in the long history of their rivalry. I wrote at that time — and I make no apology for it — that there seemed to be more significance in the four little ducks that ended the second innings than the three lions on their chest.

Now England lead 2-1, Kevin Pietersen has the lions tattooed on his shoulder, the queue for their autographs stretches into the far distance and this country seems to be cricket crazy.

Forget the Premiership. Ignore Michael Owen's wish to return to Liverpool. Take no notice of the start of the Rugby Union season, or the Rugby League Cup final. What the sports men and women of England want to hear about is Vaughan's Valiants, the men without equal, the winners already, by popular acclaim, of every team of the year award.

"I was shaking," confessed a television technician the morning after England won the fourth Test by three wickets, one minute before the scheduled close time on the fourth day. "I was awake all night after that excitement," one new reporter claimed.

Grow up, young men; but I understand your feelings.

I reckon I am too long in the tooth to be affected by the result of a sporting event. Mostly, it is head down, eyes hopping between the laptop and the scene unfolding below me, and this summer trying to think of yet another expression that means "tight finish."

I will admit it. I found the tension unbearable.

It had all seemed so simple when the match began. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, won the toss decided to bat and after 65 from Marcus Trescothick, 58 from Vaughan, 45 from Pietersen, 102 by Andrew Flintoff and 85 by Geraint Jones England had made 477.

Bowl them out for 278 or less and England can make them follow on. Not one of them got to fifty and it took a heaving bash of 47 by Brett Lee to get them to 218.

Ha, Ha! They picked a bad team with a kid bowler Shaun Tait to replace Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne who only got out three tail-enders and Andrew Strauss and they bowled 25 no-balls. Te he! How good is that? Not as good as Simon Jones who whipped out five for 44 which gave him 12 wickets in three innings.

This lot don't know reverse swing from a ladies hockey stick. Bat again you Aussies. See how you like it when England really get on top.

Wait until they get home and their supporters start whinging about the amount of bets they've lost. No ticker tape parade this time, no party sponsored by Channel Nine, no freedom of Wagga Wagga. Australia will disown them.

Instead of crumbling the second time around the Australians batted as if they were champions, back at Gallipoli in World War I, exploring their own great national dusty interior. Everyone of their batsmen except Tait made double figures and if only three went beyond fifty that didn't matter. Someone must have made a speech good enough to bring Churchill back to life to inspire that performance and so, after 124 overs, after a Sunday morning session of 48 runs in 29 overs Australia struggled to 387.


England should win at a canter, probably get home by a distance but once again Australia almost proved too much for England as they almost proved too much at Edgbaston. England needed 129 and it was such a small total that we all looked to see how many Australia needed at Headingley in

1981. The answer is 131. Believe you me it was tense both times.

How tense? The Press Box went quiet which happens about every time a rocking horse needs a feed. The Barmy Army went silent; that was reckoned to be an annual event. I'm told the commentators in the Channel 4 commentary box hardly spoke unless they were on air. We have the word of the players that the dressing room was mad with tension, Flintoff pounding Strauss, Giles and Hoggard glad to get to the wicket for a bit of solitude.

Nottingham is not just the home of Robin Hood, it is the city where Boots the chemists had its first shop. I bet they sold out of tranquillisers before the evening finished as 32 for none became 57 for

four; as Warne plied his trade with the cunning of a man selling life insurance in an old people's home, as the twitchy Pietersen used his bat like a flail as he and the mighty Flintoff added 46.

Now the nerves began to kick in properly. The lad next to me could not control his shakes, the heel of his foot beat a furious tattoo on the floor; one man told his radio station that "I have watched England's penalty shoot-outs but I could not stay in the room while England battled for victory." When Flintoff and Pietersen had gone and Geraint Jones — dropped two more, missed a stumping, seeing as you have asked — tossed his wicket away. He ought to be replaced but instead he will stay on the basis that it is bad to change a winning side even if one of the players is a dead loss.

In the end it was the two best cricketers who won the game. Properly brought up to bowl, but also instructed how to field and how to bat.

Ashley Giles is what the Mafia would call the consigliore to Vaughan's Don Corleone. He whispers advice, keeps the kids in line, makes sure everyone knows what he is doing.

Giles has had his own tough times, still not absolutely sure that there is a place for him in every Test team but wiser than his years, a thinker, not easily flustered. Just the man for a crisis.

Matthew Hoggard can muster a batting average of eight and a bit but he was brought up in the Bradford League where the old pros meet in the pub every night and discuss — not the length of Miss World eyelashes, nor the best way to win at poker with king, jack or where the cheapest petrol can be bought — but the exact placing of short square leg to an off-spinner.

Hoggard has been the England night watchman and claims he has worked hard on his batting but really he has to be pleased if he gets into double figures.

I reckon there are few who know more about the practical ways of playing cricket than Hoggy — as the crowd have christened him — and he has a stubborn streak like one of those irritating dogs with a rubber bone.

Thirteen needed when they start out but they got a boundary apiece and finally Giles pushes the ball to mid-wicket and they gallop two and England have won.

Dramatic? If it had stood alone in a series of draws and high scores it would have been memorable but I suppose you can have too much chocolate, too much of a great wine, see too many last-ball victories. Last-ball catch to give England a victory in the second Test, last two men playing out 24 balls to save the third Test and now every result — including the draw — a possibility until Giles sneaked those last two runs.

Steve Harmison bowled the last over at Old Trafford badly and I thought Ricky Ponting captained poorly in the 31.5 overs of the England second innings. He was fined for a foul outburst when he was run out — he does not like the number of times England bring on a substitute and explained this view graphically in the language soldiers use in battle — but his field settings were strange; no slips for Lee, not enough defenders for Warne.

Let's wait until after the Oval to discuss how good England are, how far Australia have slipped.

They will still lead the world ratings if they lose this series 3-1 but that will be a false position. In 18 months England will be able to tour Down Under and come back with the crown for this side is cracking and may disintegrate and find there are no ready replacements for the men who have held sway so long.

It may take them a long time to recover but if they were to win the fifth Test they will be able to kid themselves they are still able to hold on to their place at the top of the mountain. But they will not be able to throw off the notion that not far behind them an England side is rapidly catching up.

Just think how much more easily they might be overtaking Australia if Kevin Pietersen and Geraint Jones had accepted any of 14 missed chances that have gone their way.

The scores

Fourth Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham, August 25 to 28. England won by three wickets.

England — 1st innings: M. E. Trescothick b Tait 65; A. J. Strauss c Hayden b Warne 35; M. P. Vaughan c Gilchrist b Ponting 58; I. R. Bell c Gilchrist b Tait 3; K. P. Pietersen c Gilchrist b Lee 45; A. Flintoff lbw Tait 102; G. O. Jones c & b Kasprowicz 85; A. F. Giles lbw Warne 15; M. J. Hoggard c Gilchrist b Warne 10; S. J. Harmison st Gilchrist b Warne 2; S. P. Jones (not out) 15; Extras (b-1, lb-15, w-1, nb-25) 42; Total 477.

Fall of wickets: 1-105, 2-137, 3-146, 4-213, 5-241, 6-418, 7-450, 8-450, 9-454.

Australia bowling: Lee 32-2-131-1; Kasprowicz 32-3-122-1; Tait 24-4-97-3; Warne 29.1-4-102-4; Ponting 6-2-9-1.

Australia — 1st innings: J. L. Langer c Bell b Hoggard 27; M. L. Hayden lbw Hoggard 7; R. T. Ponting lbw S. P. Jones 1; D. R. Martyn b Hoggard 1; M. J. Clarke lbw Harmison 36; S. M. Katich c Strauss b S. P. Jones 45; A. C. Gilchrist c Strauss b Flintoff 27; S. K. Warne c Bell b S. P. Jones 0; B. Lee c Bell b S. P. Jones 47; M. S. Kasprowicz b S. P. Jones 5; S. W. Tait (not out) 3; Extras (lb-2, w-1, nb-16) 19. Total 218.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-21, 3-22, 4-58, 5-99, 6-157, 7-157, 8-163, 9-175.

England bowling: Harmison 9-1-48-1; Hoggard 15-3-70-3; S. P. Jones 14.1-4-44-5; Flintoff 11-1-54-1.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. L. Langer c Bell b Giles 61; M. L. Hayden c Giles b Flintoff 26; R. T. Ponting (run out) 48; D. R. Martyn c G. O. Jones b Flintoff 13; M. J. Clarke c G. O. Jones b Hoggard 56; S. M. Katich lbw Harmison 59; A. C. Gilchrist lbw Hoggard 11; S. K. Warne st G. O. Jones b Giles 45; B. Lee (not out) 26; M. S. Kasprowicz c G. O. Jones b Harmison 19; S. W. Tait b Harmison 4; Extras (b-1, lb-4, nb-14) 19; Total 387.

Fall of wickets: 1-50, 2-129, 3-155, 4-161, 5-261, 6-277, 7-314, 8-342, 9-373.

England bowling: Hoggard 27-7-72-2; S. P. Jones 4-0-15-0; Harmison 30-5-93-3; Flintoff 29-4-83-2; Giles 28-3-107-2; Bell 6-2-12-0.

England — 2nd innings: M. E. Trescothick c Ponting b Warne 27; A. J. Strauss c Clarke b Warne 23; M. P. Vaughan c Hayden b Warne 0; I. R. Bell c Kasprowicz b Lee 3; K. P. Pietersen c Gilchrist b Lee 23; A. Flintoff b Lee 26; G. O. Jones c Kasprowicz b Warne 3; A. F. Giles (not out) 7; M. J. Hoggard (not out) 8; Extras (lb-4, nb-5) 9. Total (for seven wkts) 129.

Fall of wickets: 1-32, 2-36, 3-57, 4-57, 5-103, 6-111, 7-116.

Australia bowling: Lee 12-0-51-3; Kasprowicz 2-0-19-0; Warne 13.5-2-31-4; Tait 4-0-24-0.