Ashes 2013: South Africa are the benchmark for England, says Michael Vaughan

Michael Vaughan said that England have to play better cricket than South Africa if they want to get back to No 1 in the world © Getty Images

London: Mar 29, 2013

Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes that South Africa are the benchmark in Test cricket and the England team need to play better than Graeme Smith’s men if they are to rise to No 1.

Vaughan wrote in his column for The Telegraph: “In this era South Africa are the benchmark. They are winning series all over the world and are a long way ahead. In my time it was about trying to catch Australia. Winning the Ashes means a lot to English players, fans and the media. But Australia are fourth in the world. England’s aim is to be No 1. To do that they have to play better cricket than South Africa and somehow match them consistently, which requires a stronger mentality.”

Vaughan believes that England “have the ingredients to be a high-quality team for a long period but inconsistency is holding them back and they are sensitive to criticism. Vaughan wants the English team to show the same spirit and determination they showed in drawing the last test against New Zealand and beating India 2-1 at home in order to come good in the Ashes.

Vaughan is confident that England will do well in the upcoming home Ashes leg. However, he wants to see them do well in adversity too. “England are good at raising their game for the big stage, which is why I do not worry about the Ashes,” he said. “England will thrive in front of the big crowds, and feed off the buzz and energy around the series. But winning a low-key series away in New Zealand playing at tiny grounds in front of small crowds is harder. You have to be strong mentally.”

Vaughan says that England’s failure to win in New Zealand wasn’t down to captain Alastair Cook alone. “All fingers point to the captain, Alastair Cook, but I do not pin all the blame on him,” said Vaughan. “His captaincy is in its infancy. Everything went well in India but has gone wrong here. As a young batsman Cook worked out his deficiencies and improved. He has to do the same as captain. As a skipper you need to go back to your room every night and ask: ‘What do I need to do better?’ Write the answers down if necessary.”

Vaughan hopes that Cook would learn from New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum’s aggressive captaincy. “England’s thinking in the field was schoolboyish at times,” said Vaughan. “McCullum has been the complete opposite. He has known when to attack and used the right bowlers at the right times. One small example from this match. Stuart Broad hits a six and four but McCullum puts a man on the drive rather than spread the field. Next ball, Broad is caught driving.
“In contrast, England’s thought patterns have been a real concern. In Wellington with New Zealand 90 for five BJ Watling nicked a ball through vacant third slip. We had two slips, a gully and an extra cover saving runs. Watling and McCullum added a hundred. Opportunity missed.  Also in Wellington, we did not have a bat-pad man for Monty Panesar bowling into the rough, another chance popped up and was missed.

“In Auckland on the second morning with James Anderson bowling nicely, we only had two slips and a third man (to save runs) against Ross Taylor who is a nervous starter. England have a theory of restricting teams to 2.6 an over, squeeze the run rate with a ring field and induce errors. That works in India and other parts of the world where cricket is attritional. But here we needed to be aggressive,” he said.