Vaughan must learn that greed is good
A month or so back in Christchurch, Nasser Hussain stood back and marvelled at an innings of Michael Vaughan against Canterbury, a meticulous century that touched the heights while he himself, at the other end, had scarcely been able to force the ball off the square.
The talent of Vaughan, he said, was limitless. Then came the rider: Vaughan must learn to translate talent into achievement. No more bright 30s. No more bad luck and cranky injuries. Onwards Michael and upwards if you want to be a major player on the world stage.
Well, Vaughan went some way down that long path at Lord's yesterday, scoring a majestic century, his second in Tests following 120 against Pakistan at Old Trafford last year. It came against the certain knowledge that failure by him and his colleagues on the scale of Saturday's abject surrender to fine Sri Lankan cricket would lead to humiliating defeat.
Vaughan, 20 overnight, added 95 more, batting long into the afternoon session, and putting on 168 for the first wicket with Marcus Trescothick (76), before he nibbled at the second ball of a new spell from the controversial pace bowler Ruchira Perera and was caught at the wicket.
Vaughan wanted this innings - how he did - and he needed it, too. This is the man who had been earmarked as the replacement for Mike Atherton at the top of the order and had all the credentials but not yet the achievement to justify the claim.
Yesterday, at Lord's, that changed.
He had his share of luck, being dropped twice, on 28 and 34, inside the first four overs of the day. They were bad misses by Sanath Jayasuriya at first slip, given the remarkable standard of the tourists' catching on Saturday, but Vaughan played exquisitely for the most part thereafter, hitting 18 fours with driving the key to it.
Only when he had reached 99 did the nerves kick in as Jayasuriya played mind games. In mid-innings, he had driven unwisely at a wide one from Chaminda Vaas slanted across him, and although he found the boundary the ball had travelled in the air dangerously close to backward point.
It was poor shot selection, and the Sri Lankan bowlers preyed on it. So Jayasuriya set his field: short cover, another perched similarly but wider, backward point. Bowl across his bows, Vaas was told, he'll drive it in the air. Vaughan resisted.
But the tension was there. Another hold-up. Mark Butcher had almost run himself out and in saving overthrows Jayasuriya was cracked on the thumb and needed treatment. Vaughan smiled at it all, relishing it, but the adrenalin was pumping all right.
He pushed the next ball past the bowler Aravinda de Silva and set off on a scrambled run, that left him safe but might have done for his partner had the fielder collected the ball cleanly. Then came the celebration, fists pumping, salutes round the ground and an embrace from Butcher.
Vaughan could not have been more animated had he just split the atom and solved world poverty for good measure. That he got out, though, was symptomatic of a malaise within the side that makes England slow to cash in when the chance is there to get greedy. It remains a cause for concern. Vaughan's hundred was the 44th this current side have made between them, and just seven have exceeded 150, while 26 have been under 120. They need to understand, as Dennis Amiss once said, that there are few feelings better than standing in the middle with the bowling on its knees and a hundred to your name.
And besides which - and this was close to the heart of that particular Warwickshire opener - while you are batting you are not fielding. Amiss made 11 centuries for England and only three of them were under 158. Greed, as Gordon Gekko said, is good.
At 321 for two, an overall lead of 41, England are now well placed to save this match if not actually push for a win, a situation that will only arise should Sri Lanka bowl them out after lunch and then get twitchy.
Sri Lanka first Innings 555-8 dec (M Atapattu 185, M Jayawardene 107, A de Silva 88, R Arnold 50; D Cork 3-93) England first Innings 275 (M Vaughan 64, N Hussain 57; R Perera 3-48, B Fernando 3-83)
ENGLAND second Innings
M. Trescothick lbw b Zoysa 76
M. Vaughan c Sangakkara b Perera 115
M. Butcher not out 55
N. Hussain not out 51
Extras (b1, lb6, w1, nb16) 24
Total (2wkts, 104.2 overs, 450 mins) ... 321
Fall of wickets: 1-168, 2-213
To bat: G Thorpe, J Crawley, A Stewart, A Flintoff, D Cork, A Caddick, M Hoggard
Bowling: Vaas 26.2-5-71-0; Zoysa 19-3-54-1 (6nb,1w); Perera 20-3-57-1 (6nb); de Silva 12-1-34-0; Fernando 18-1-68-0 (3nb); Jayasuriya 9-2-30-0;