Cricket: England v South Africa

Truth behind resignations of Hussain and Vaughan

England captains have a habit of resigning during South Africa series, but Andrew Strauss has not yet been burdened by the same stresses

Truth behind resignations of Hussain and Vaughan

Captains of losing teams normally find themselves under pressure – from fans and certain quarters of the media, at least. Pundits putting Andrew Strauss on the risk list will not be slow to recall that the last two South African tours of England have resulted in the host’s Test captain standing down; Nasser Hussain in 2003 and Cricket on Five’s Michael Vaughan in 2008.

With the benefit of hindsight and the accounts contained in the autobiographies of both former captains, it is interesting to look into the circumstances behind their resignations and assess how much the South African opposition played a part. The truth is somewhat different to the common assumptions.

Hussain and Vaughan both had remarkably similar reasons to resign. In 2003, Vaughan had already been appointed limited overs captain and had led England to victory in a tournament against South Africa and Zimbabwe. Seeing this success Hussain offered to resign before the Test series, but England coach Duncan Fletcher told him it would be premature. Nevertheless, when he returned to the dressing room at Edgbaston he felt he had lost the side with even Fletcher turning to Vaughan for information and ideas.

Undoubtedly it did not help that Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs put on 338 runs for the first wicket; whatever he tried in the field failed to work and when England eventually had their chance to bat he felt he was out to a poor decision. “I hated every second of the first Test,” he wrote in his autobiography ‘Playing with Fire’.  

Hussain also admitted to being depressed, that his health was suffering and to feeling that he had no more to give. He was simply burnt out. “It was clear to me I’d taken the side as far as I could,” he wrote. The England team now clearly wanted Vaughan’s way of doing things. But Hussain did not immediately retire from international cricket and played a triumphant winnng hundred in his last Test at Lord’s a year later.

Reading Vaughan’s account of the final days of his Test career in ‘Time to Declare’ the similarities leap off the page. He, too, felt his field placings were not working and at Edgbaston (the third Test in the series and Vaughan’s last) he got a first-ball duck. He believed the players were switching off from him (again there was a split captaincy, which Vaughan never liked), that his style of leadership was not working with coach Peter Moores, and he had felt unsupported by the selectors when Darren Pattinson was chosen to play at Headingley.

Vaughan was even more open than Hussain about how the stress of the job was affecting him. He had lost all confidence in his batting and would rather be in the dressing room than in the middle. “I felt like a zombie inside and all I wanted to do was sit down and retreat inside myself,” he wrote, and claimed that his tears at the press conference when he resigned were because he was so relieved it was ending. He retired immediately from all international cricket.

The main contributing factor to the end of both Vaughan’s and Hussain’s captaincy careers was undoubtedly stress, rather than South Africa's cricket. Strauss, however, has used the split captaincy so mistrusted by his predecessors to his advantage in this respect. He does not involve himself at all in limited-overs cricket and so arrives fresh at the beginning of each Test series and organises his cricketing life on his own terms. His decision to sit out a tour to Bangladesh is a perfect illustration.

Nevertheless Strauss will need to find personal form and a way to at least draw the series against South Africa if he is to keep his position out of the firing line this summer.