I Had Some Dreams, They Were Clouds In My Coffee

21st November 2002. Adelaide. After a chastening first test defeat at Brisbane, the England Ashes tour moved to Adelaide. So had I. On my first visit to watch England overseas it was time for the last leg of the most amazing holiday. Day 1 at Adelaide, after the awful queues and mix-up over tickets, was lit up by an innings of unimagined brilliance. Michael Vaughan slipped the gears, flowed beautifully, took advantage of short square boundaries and made 177 magnificent runs. To be there was a privilege. Hell, for a day at least it even gave us a little hope, although we were disappointed he was out from the last ball of the day. If cricket is entertainment, then Vaughan was the main show for England. Sure he’s made a couple of 190s against India in the preceding summer. This was the Ashes, my Ashes, and I had an England hero to be proud of. He even stood straight faced as he did not walk and pissed Justin Langer off. That was a win-win as far as I was concerned.

24th November 2002. Adelaide. The game is over. Despite Vaughan adding a decent 40-odd in the second innings, Ricky Ponting has been made man of the match. The Barmy Army, based by the scoreboard at Adelaide Oval sing “Michael Vaughan, My Lord, Michael Vaughan” in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. How could the adjudicators not watch that innings and put it above Ponting’s? A minor quibble.

12th September 2005. London. After that successful Ashes, where he made two more big hundreds, Vaughan ascended to the captaincy and pointed England in the right direction, making them more ruthless in association with the development of a couple of key weapons. There was the rampage through 2004. A win in South Africa, and then the coup de grace. Winning the Ashes in front of amazed crowds, with a team that should be remembered for all time. They winged it a bit, arguably did not win in their most dominant performance (Old Trafford), but come the final day the series was in the balance. This amazing Day 5 will, or at least should, never be forgotten. A man playing to his captain’s orders saved the day. England celebrated. Vaughan was seen as a genius, a man able to get the best out of his team, to make it gel, and together with Duncan Fletcher, a team that played exciting attacking cricket, with a team of stars and artisans.

Michael Vaughan, for a couple of years, was the star of English cricket. He had become the world number 1 batsman after a run of form so magical it was scarcely believable. While his batting paid the price in the wake of his appointment as captain, he proved himself to be tactically astute, an infuser of confidence, a beacon of control. He did, also, have a really good bowling attack which, after 2005, never played together in full again. I bought his books, bad as they were. I watched the videos time and again. I still have his 177 in full, I think, converted to DVD. Being there for that was incredible. There was such confidence in his strokeplay, such clean hitting, and confidence. That was what struck out at me, his confidence. While Hussain pottered about at the other end, scratching runs here and there, Vaughan was playing a different game.

Fast forward 15 years since then, 12 years since those Ashes, and the picture could hardly be more different. I’ll wager that the England cricket supporters on here would not have had a bad word said about Vaughan after 2005. In hindsight, and with the benefit of what we know now, Vaughan’s role as a captain may even be questioned, such has been the body of evidence post career of insensitivity, stupidity and downright nonsense uttered from our ex-captain that you wonder how he could lead. When we look at Sky, and I am not a fan of many of them, at least ex-captains Hussain and Atherton grip you with what they say. Nass may go off the deep end every now and then, but you see and hear the utter passion he has for the game at heart. Atherton, in his own way, shows his love for international cricket behind a reserved, considered approach very much akin to the way Richie Benaud approached things. Both ex-captains are, I think, still very much respected for different methodologies, but also because their commentary and analysis avoids you thinking “what are they after?”

Michael Vaughan is all over the bloody airwaves, and social media. He is on Radio 5 Live, both in his stint as a commentator on TMS and a podcast show with the vacuous faux joker Phil Tufnell. Even in the days of HDWLIA when I tried to read and listen to everything, these two clowns were not exactly required listening. At least Freddie makes no bones about wanting to get into show-business. Vaughan can also be found commentating on the dead zone that is Channel 5’s highlights, and if that isn’t enough, he’s going to be on BT Sport’s coverage of the Ashes this winter, was on their sofa last year, and is sure to be put up alongside Graeme Swann as the face of the winter. I love the Ashes, especially in Australia (2002 and 2006 did that to me, even though we lost all 4 matches I went to) and we are going to have to put up with this. In the words of one of my favourite pop collectives, What Have I Done To Deserve This?

There’s no sanctuary on social media. There he is, bestriding Twitter with his faux man of the people act that soon disappears when someone picks him up on something he says, or lawks a mercy, mentions potential conflicts of interest when ISM clients are discussed. If there’s an opinion to be had, he’ll have one. If there’s an acca to promote, he’ll promote it (where he is a “rep” for an online betting company, thus turning an innocent sharing of a bet into a commercial opportunity). He’s also someone who lurches into hyperbole far too readily. If there’s a greatest ever, then he’s onto it. I’m a grump, but I find this nonsense tiresome. And for someone bemoaning a drinking culture (once he saw how the land laid) he’s quick to say it’s “vino o’clock”. Harmless? Sure, but when he’s doing it. Oh, and how about filming a commercial with Stokes for an alcoholic beverage? I suppose it was OK as Hales wasn’t about.

If you think you are safe in newspaper land, well you’d be wrong. He has a gig at the Telegraph where he can share with us his knowledge of mental health issues, his social responsibility agenda, and generally act as a slightly more refined Robbie Savage. Jonathan Liew said of Savage that he always has an opinion, and if you hang about long enough, he’ll give you a diametrically opposite opinion. Vaughan is cricket’s equivalent, a sort of Instant Messenger form of writing. He can say something, hope you’ll forget it, and then say something totally different when he sees how the wind is blowing. Note how he’s changed from a sorrowful, almost excusing tone earlier in the Stokes affair, converting to a full on hammering down, even throwing Alex Hales under the bus too. With friends like these, who the hell needs enemies? One minute we need to understand why Stokes needs to unwind, but once the media line to take was set, it’s you never want to go on a night out with these headbangers.

I think, for me, the beginning of the end was how Vaughan watched how the wind was blowing post 2013-14 and made the case for KP. It was always couched in the public should be told, and that this appeared a question of management. One could almost be fooled that he was on “our side”. If KP made runs in the Big Bash, Vaughan would be on Twitter, saying that he’s useful, he should be in our T20 side at least etc. etc. He was, undoubtedly, playing to the gallery. He is well entrenched into the England cricketing firmament, and he was running with hare and hunting with the hounds. So while, on his radio show, he’d be in tune with us, saying those things we wanted to hear, in reality he was talking out of the side of his mouth. It was more self-referential mentions of how he managed to keep KP in check, and less why the ECB were being ocean-going morons with their outside cricket, dodgy dossiers and contempt for the public. Oh sure, he picked the low-hanging fruit, but he never convinced us he’d do anything about it. When the story came and went, ebbed and flowed, he’d be there to talk about it, but given he has an unspoken influence in the game, he didn’t seem to want to get involved or have a true pop.

Because when he got the chance to do it, he bottled it. He may not have won but for a man supposedly so keen for his views to be heard, and to have influence over the game, he should have gone up against a man who could hardly be seen to be on the same hymn sheet as Vaughan. Michael made it known how he wanted talent to run free, to play positively, to attack, to “fight fire with fire”. Strauss was a man of process, of management theory, of team-building through bonding and stability, buy-in and culture. There was bowling dry, team ethics, winning with pressure applied, and when the team made runs on the board, they were formidable. The ultimate company man, the man who would eschew public opinion and do things his way against a so-called “man of the people”. Process against charisma. Stability against Invention. Bowling dry against pedal to the metal.

Vaughan may have read the runes and said to himself that the ECB would never go for him, but he retreated with caution. There were whispers, most notably from the key domestic cricket writer on ESPN Cricinfo that Vaughan had serious conflicts of interest he would have to divest, which were providing him with a nice little sideline to his commentary and writing gigs. Most notably, and the one which has us wondering quite what we have now is his involvement in ISM.

This is a trick played by all the celebs who claim to love the “bantz” but when it is directed at them, it’s “only opinions”. As if Michael Vaughan’s opinions have absolutely no weighting on any decisions made. I could spend months trawling his twitter feed for examples of this opinion forming manifested itself into team selections. For example, Jonathan Trott, after his first absence from the team made a double hundred for England Lions in South Africa. Off he went on the bandwagon that Trott should return as opener for the West Indies tour coming up. Sam Robson had been dumped and in came Trott. A couple of iffy innings later and Vaughan is saying there’s no way Trott can play in the Ashes, and lo and behold, Adam Lyth is his successor, and he gets the nod. Lyth has a tough time, and Vaughan, yet again gets it right..

Moeen Ali doesn’t have a great tour in the Emirates and Alex Hales comes in. Lo and behold, Vaughan was again in favour…

Vaughan echoed Hussain’s sentiments when he selected his ideal England XI to line-up against South Africa in Durban on Boxing Day.

“(Hales) deserves the chance to open the batting,” Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.

“It will not be easy to face Steyn and Morkel on his first tour as Test opener but he will have plenty of opportunity in warm up games to find form and a bit of confidence.

Don’t you think we can all do this? Listen to the leaks, report on them, “back” them, because all pundits need to “back” decisions and then repent at leisure. Because, as we know, Hales kept his place for the early part of the 2016 summer and Vaughan had his own focus… James Vince.

This is the issue with Vaughan. Even if he believes James Vince is the answer to our Ashes issues now, or the next taxi on the rank back in 2016, there is, below the surface, the conflict of interest Jonathan Trott went to town on in his book. Vince is in the ISM gang, and that causes a problem with the smell test.

Methinks he protests too much…What Vaughan does not get, and seems to bristle at whenever it is mentioned is that he put himself in this position. He has not exactly been quiet when evaluating James Vince’s early performances. As I say, I remember him bigging up Vince’s fielding when he was in the early days of his test career, more than I’ve ever really heard from him before. It just seemed like an additional promo for “his man”. Now he denies this furiously wherever he goes, even threatening to take legal action against Jonathan Trott and, I presume, his co-writer George Dobell, for making that contention. It’s a dead cert to get you blocked should you try it on on Twitter. The reaction to Vince being touted as an Ashes batsman was greeted with incredulity by those who give much of their time up following it, but were quickly dismissed as “outside the game” by Swann in a pairing with Vaughan. But, presumably as an exercise in thinking who should go to the Ashes tour, rather than who would be going, Vaughan showed that telepathy with the selectors for which he is renowned.

Ignore the bowlers, no-one really cares about them! The thing about this is I don’t know anyone suggesting Vince prior to the weekend before selection and yet an ISM client is put in an ISM client’s list is just happenstance? It came together with the ready packed line to take (he may have the technique for Australia – which is interesting because Vaughan bemoaned Vince’s “hard hands” a year ago and was frustrated that he wasn’t showing the required temperament – presumably these disappear in Brisbane) and off we ran.

But perhaps the single thing that cheeses me off with Vaughan is his unquenchable thirst to promote four day test matches. I’ll go into this more when I do a piece on this risible nonsense, and look at the pros and cons put in the article in the Cricketer (Tim, Tim, why have you let us down on this one). He just does not listen to the arguments against. Imagine how you would have felt, Michael, on the Saturday of the Old Trafford test in 2005. We put 400 on the board, Australia had avoided the follow-on on a rain ruined Day 3. That test would simply have had nowhere to go. England 180 in front, Australia with three wickets left. Day 4 a total irrelevance. Your 166 in the first innings in total vain. A nice bon mot in a game that died. Even with an additional ten overs each day, you aren’t really in a better position. Then we would not have had that wonderful Day 5 drama, played in front of a packed house, watched by millions on TV, entertainment at its best, drama at its best, evolving in the natural flow of the game. 4 day cricket will only get the same results by contrivance. Doctoring pitches, and yes, I’ve heard it all about bowler-friendly wickets being more exciting, but they can also be more of a lottery, forced declarations. But the other thing it could do is make the home team going 1-0 up in a major series prepare roads that would not have to last that long. I can go on.

None of this matters to Vaughan. Test cricket is “dying” (no-one bothering to work out how or why it is being “killed”) and needs to be saved. The only way to do so is to shorten it. But you aren’t really because you’d bowl more overs in the day (stop laughing at the flaw in that argument), so all those exciting five day games would have been finished within his timeline… Anyone who isn’t on board is not with the program. Is prepared to see test cricket die. And if you dare mention it is to squeeze in more money opportunities for the top players that might just be hooked up to ISM, well, there you have it. A block for you.

Back in 2002, when I saw a man take it to the Aussies, in person, in front of my eyes, I would have given anything to be like him. The brilliant shots, the amazing tempo, the courage of his batting convictions. When he captained us in 2005, before my eyes, with control, with verve, with a desire to fight toe to toe with a mighty foe, he could have taken over English cricket at that time and I would have been a fervent fan. Fast forward and I see a man who has gone beyond disappointing me, to being a man I actually loathe hearing from. Sadly, as a cricket fan, I can hardly avoid him. He’s everywhere. He doesn’t pass the honesty smell test, no matter how much he protests. He sways with the wind, pretending, yes, in my view pretending, he’s in with the common fan, but he doesn’t half have a way of being in step with what the powers that be want. It’s almost uncanny. Of course he wants a new T20 competition in England and to hell with the consequences. Of course he wants 4 day test matches, and to hell with whether it will work, only we have to try. Of course he has his fingers on the pulse, because he’s so rarely off the air, I’m surprised anyone else has a chance to get a word in. Laugh at that Power List as we do, there’s a reason he’s that high up on it. There’s a special place in my little list for those who I thought were on our side, but are as inside cricket as can be and act like it when challenged. Number 39, for all his sins, and there are many, makes few bones about it. Hell, he named his podcast Inside Cricket. Vaughan pretended to be for the common fan. He’s nowhere near it. The Shiny Toy with the Mr Green Acca, the Ashes winning captain with the media platform.The faux man of the people. It’s only an opinion Shiny Toy.

I’m not a fan.

Give me a reason why it’s better.