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Refreshed Vaughan targets Sri Lanka success

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It’s been three long months since Michael Vaughan was last involved in the international set-up - an eternity in the modern calendar - but for once that has had nothing to do with the state of his fitness. After standing down from the ODI captaincy, and watching from the sidelines while Paul Collingwood marshalled impressive wins over India at home and Sri Lanka away, he’s back at the helm for one of the toughest tours of all, and ready to attend to some unfinished business.

This winter Vaughan comes full circle as England’s Test captain. It was on the corresponding tour to Sri Lanka in 2003-04 - a trip that also included a maiden series in Bangladesh - that he first set out the agenda that would eventually turn him into England’s most successful captain of all time. The series was lost after two hard-fought draws and a rout in the decider at Colombo, but the mindset he instilled was not. From those inauspicious beginnings evolved the side that would go on to win every one of its next six Test series, including of course the 2005 Ashes.

“Sri Lanka is one of the toughest away trips you can go on, but it’s also one of the most exciting,” said Vaughan on the eve of England’s departure. “There’s a lot of factors involved - there’s the heat, the humidity and the fact we’re playing against a good side - but if you get all your players playing in the right fashion and towards a plan, and playing for each other, you can be successful. That’s what we’re hoping to do in the next six weeks.”

A marker for this trip has already been set down by the success of Collingwood’s men. Their 4-1 victory in last month’s ODIs was England’s first in the subcontinent for 20 years, and Vaughan was eager to tap into the mindset that carried them to a very notable triumph. “I’m delighted, because it’s very important to have had success on the shores of Sri Lanka,” he said. “We know Test cricket is totally different, but to have so many in this camp with a real confidence factor is great for the team.”

In fact, Vaughan is one of only two members of the tour party to have missed out on what was undoubtedly a significant bonding session for a new-look squad. Matthew Hoggard is the other (he’s been surplus to ODI requirements for 18 months now), and though Steve Harmison could yet swell the Test-specialist numbers to three, Vaughan is well aware of the pressure to perform that his exalted status now brings. After all, in 2003 his predecessor, Nasser Hussain, decided he had lost the dressing-room after Vaughan’s youthful one-day team had seen off South Africa in the NatWest Series, and duly resigned after just one more Test in charge.

“I’m sure there will be external pressures, but I’m not looking at that at all,” said Vaughan. “I’m feeling very refreshed and focussed, and I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a great cricket trip. I know I’m not going to be England captain forever but it’s not something I worry about. One day Collingwood could be the man to replace me but that’s not something to lose sleep over. I’m delighted to be here with a young team, and hopefully I can do it for a while.”

Time and again Vaughan reiterated how “refreshed” his mind was, as if trying to convince himself every bit as much as his doubters. But as India have just demonstrated with the appointment of Anil Kumble as Test captain, there is something about an experienced leader in five-day cricket that cannot easily be quantified. This is Vaughan’s third Test tour to Sri Lanka, following his contrasting fortunes in 2000-01 and 2003-04.

But while England’s team has changed beyond recognition in the intervening years, the kingpins of the Sri Lankan line-up - Murali, Vaas, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Sangakkara - remain largely the same. The experience and strategies that Vaughan can bring to bear could prove to be England’s trump card in the coming weeks.

“We know a lot about all their players, but we’re trying to focus on getting our plans right,” he said. “We have to get our players playing to a real good standard, because if we don’t we’ve got no chance. This next two-and-a-half weeks, we’ll prepare really hard, get used to the conditions, and go to that first Test in Kandy full of confidence and with a real good strategy in place.”

The itinerary is an aspect of the tour that could, for a change, play into England’s hands. Traditionally the first Test has been at Galle, Murali’s personal fiefdom, where he has picked up 87 wickets in 11 Tests. This year, because of the ongoing reconstruction following the tsunami in 2004, the series kicks off in the foothills of Kandy - the most swing-and-seam friendly of the venues on offer. “I think it is a good way to play the series for us, but it all depends on how we play,” said Vaughan. “If we get off to a good start, we’ll be successful.”

For the time being, Vaughan has a ten-hour flight to Colombo, followed by two warm-up matches, to get acquainted with the new men at his disposal. He turned 33 last month, which makes him a full decade older than three of his fellow tourists - Stuart Broad, Ravi Bopara and his provisional new opening partner, Alastair Cook.

“The team are full of energy, youthfulness and a little bit of cheekiness,” said Vaughan. “It does feel different because obviously I’m a lot more experienced, and the team we’re taking isn’t that experienced. But I’m very excited about the trip. Sri Lanka is a country where you get tested in all areas of your game, not just on the pitch. The squad is one that we believe we’ve picked on character, and if we get all our plans and strategies right we can be successful.”

Source:Cricket News

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007 and is filed under General, Cricket.

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