The simultaneous resignation of England cricket captains Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood yesterday, and the appointment of Kevin Pietersen today, raise several questions.
a) Why did Vaughan decide to go?
First of all, although he is one of England’s most gifted batsmen he has been in horrible form for a long while, and has reached a point where he could hardly justify his place in a Test side. No doubt this has combined with the stresses of captaincy into a vicious circle of mental fatigue, and this is pretty much the reason he gave in his resignation statement. However, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that this is not the only reason.
Many critics have been carping at his captaincy, with its apparent closed-shop approach, its chummy nicknames and ‘Vaughany’s gang’ feel, and its familiar parade of press-conference cliches about positivity – mostly because he hasn’t been winning. Yet this system worked superbly for him in the past. With Duncan Fletcher as coach, he created a side that depended on close bonding, shored up by the security of central contracts – and by success. Has it gone stale because Vaughan himself is tired and stressed, because of lack of talent to surround him, or because as a system for the national team within the England set-up, it could not work long-term?
It has been obvious that Vaughan has not agreed with the selectors recently, most notably over the choice of Darren Pattinson, a competent bowler who acquitted himself well in his one Test match but has mostly played in Australia and was unknown to almost everyone in the England set-up. Vaughan let it be known that he felt this selection – combined with dropping his ally Paul Collingwood for the same Test – led to ‘confusion’. He then had a lengthy meeting with the Chairman of Selectors Geoff Miller, which apparently ‘cleared the air’. So much so, in fact, that a few weeks afterwards Vaughan was clearing his desk.
The England coach Peter Moores clearly does not have the relationship with Vaughan that his predecessor Fletcher did. Perhaps Vaughan thinks Moores is rubbish. Perhaps Moores thinks Vaughan is complacent and past it. Hard to tell, because they haven’t been seen much together. They have never shown the world that they formed a working team.
b) Why did Paul Collingwood decide to go?
His resignation has received less attention than Vaughan’s, but is in many ways more surprising.
For those unfamiliar with cricket structures, it should be explained that the captaincy of a national side is not normally split, but this is happening more often as the shorter forms of the game take on greater importance. The received wisdom is that it makes for trouble within the ranks and that the Test captain (the senior partner) can be undermined by an upstart captain of one-day games. In this case, Collingwood is a close friend of Vaughan, and became one-day captain at a time when Vaughan was already struggling with his form after massive injury problems. There is every sign that they have worked very well together.
Colly has his own brand of dauntless competitiveness, but he has not been altogether successful as captain. He made a serious error of judgment in one match and is currently serving a suspension for not controlling the over-rate. So he may perhaps have felt that it was not really the job for him. On the other hand he was not doing badly enough in terms of results for anyone to demand that he should go.
Like Vaughan he has been in terrible form, but in the last Test batted himself back with a superb innings. It is quite likely, though, that he had already taken the decision to give up the captaincy before he went out for that innings, and so freed up his mind to play at his best.
Did he jump or was he pushed? Some journalists are asserting that he was sacked, others are suggesting that he was asked to step down because the selectors wanted one captain in charge of both teams.
Given their friendship it is impossible to believe that Vaughan and Collingwood did not discuss their situations. If Vaughan’s relationship with the selectors and coach had deteriorated to the point where he no longer wanted to be captain, it seems likely that Collingwood would feel that he, too, wanted to pack it in.
c) Why has there really only been one candidate for the next captain?
Sadly, the current England team contains far too many players who are performing way below their ability, and some whose ability at Test level is questionable. Kevin Pietersen is actually the only player who is guaranteed a place in both test and one-day sides on the basis of his current playing.
This is a pretty shocking state of affairs and suggest that there are deep-seated problems in both the selection and coaching of England cricket players.
Duncan Fletcher demanded central contracts because he felt that the county system did not prepare players properly for the national side. However, it seems that we now have centrally contracted players who are not dropped or rested when out of form, and the county system is still not putting through enough talented players.
d) Will Kevin Pietersen make a good captain?
He certainly has a Marmite personality, some find him obnoxious and others immature, some enjoy his enthusiasm and others see him as an irresponsible brat.
My own view is that he’ll last one series. Two at the outside. And that someone else will captain England in the all-important Ashes series next year.