ENGLAND SLIP QUIETLY AWAY ; CAPTAIN SUPREME: Graeme Smith Celebrates after Hitting the Winning Run but England All-Rounder Andrew Flintoff Feels the Frustration and Skipper Michael Vaughan Is Brought to His Knees by Another Defeat

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Hayter

THREE years ago, when Michael Vaughan spoke of the brilliance of his players in hauling themselves back into the 2005 Ashes with a last-gasp win over Australia at Edgbaston, he could barely make himself heard above the din and the hubbub Last night, as he offered his reflections on a day when his side gave their all against Graeme Smiths South Africans but found it was nowhere near enough to avoid the defeat that secured a decisive series loss, hardly anyone was still there to listen.

Quite rightly, Vaughan praised the effort of his opposing skipper to the sunny late evening skies.

Smiths unbeaten 154, his 16th Test hundred, was a monument to his skill, determination and ambition to become the first South Africa captain to win a series here since 1965.

He refused to play the blame game over the way Kevin Pietersen allowed himself to be suckered into getting out for 94 in Englands second innings, when patient accumulation rather than fancy-dan switch-hitting had become the overriding requirement.

Indeed, Vaughan even went so far as to point out that it was Pietersens strokeplay that had dragged England back into the match in the first place.

He plays his cricket aggressively and thats the way I want it, the captain insisted.

Vaughan would not offer up as an excuse the fact that in the final analysis England could have done with five front-line bowlers, not four, to hunt down Smith and his batsmen, who at one stage before tea yesterday were 93 for four in pursuit of 281 to win, the highest fourth innings victory target in all Tests on this ground.

Instead, he pointed out that if England had picked an extra bowler to support the magnificent Andrew Flintoff, then Paul Collingwood might never have been around to play the innings of 135 he completed yesterday to give his side even a sniff of victory.

And Vaughan certainly did not give off the air of a man who believes he is under pressure, not only for his job as captain but also, almost unbelievably, for his place in the side.

Who knows if he read the comments of another great Yorkshire batsmen this week, a certain Geoffrey Boycott, who made plain his thoughts that Vaughan was only in the side because he is captain.

True, England did respond with passion and pride after their anaemic performances not only in the second Test at Headingley but also on the first day here when they subsided for 231 in their woefully inadequate first innings.

Clearly rattled by the apparent undermining of his authority by the selectors in the previous Test, in giving him a former roof-tiler born in Grimsby called Darren Pattinson to bowl swing at pace when he wanted his Ashes hero Simon Jones, Vaughan can have no such complaints that he did not get the XI he requested for this match. …