Taking the Michael

AS ALAN Shearer and John Barnes have proved, a good player does not a good pundit make, but former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan was instantly at ease on screen. Always immaculately turned out, I wonder how he chooses what he wears. “I just wear all my own stuff,” he says, referring to his tailoring company Barrington Ayre. “You’ve got to wear something nice – you don’t want to look a mug on telly.”

Vaughan, it must be said, rarely looks like a mug – in fact, commentators, journalists and fellow cricketers all come back to one word: elegance. In full flow, Vaughan played with a unique, rhythmic gracefulness. He played shots the way the cricketing gods intended. “The best cover drive I have ever seen,” a cricket- loving friend wistfully recalls.

For all his refinement behind the crease, in person he is a tall, no-nonsense Yorkshireman with a handshake that feels like GBH. Last year, however, he showed the world his sensitive side with an award-winning documentary on depression in cricket. His investigation was heartfelt: two of his close cricketing friends – Michael Yardy and Marcus Trescothick – have both had well documented mental health problems. Are cricket players particularly susceptible? “I think all professional sports people are vulnerable. There aren’t many other jobs where you have these massive highs and lows. One minute you’re being cheered on by 100,000 people and then all of a sudden that stops.”

The risk, Vaughan says, is when you chase the high. “Sportsmen become very vulnerable when they try to replace that feeling. They might turn to drugs, or gambling...” Or boxing? “Exactly!” While Freddie Flintoff hasn’t gone off the rails, a succession of bizarre career moves – from darts commentator to talent show judge to pugilist – have given the impression of a man without a clear direction in life.

Vaughan, though, knows himself too well to be cast adrift. As England captain he excelled at analysing the game, breakingdowntheoptionsandchoosing the right one. Retirement is no different: “My mind needs to stay active,” he explains. “When I finished I knew I needed to be involved in many different projects rather than limit myself to one industry.”

Today he is promoting a 500-mile bike ride he’s taking part in this September fortheLaureusSportforGood Foundation. Other projects include buying Barrington Ayre, finishing a respectable seventh on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing and working as a commentator and pundit on the BBC’s Test Match Special. His proficiency at the latter has come as a relief for a cricketing audience notoriously picky about their broadcasters.

Vaughan functions well as a younger foil to Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan Agnew, adding some spice to this grand old institution of sports broadcasting. The generational difference is exemplified by their attitudes to the Barmy Army, England’s noisy globe trotting supporters’ group. For Vaughan, they’re the “twelfth man” (“in afternoon sessions their chanting almost always gets us a wicket”) but they’ve been the subject of much tut- tutting from Agnew and Boycott over the years. “They love them really, they’ve just criticised them for so long that they daren’t go back on themselves now.” So which of his peers does he think looks like “a mug” on telly?

“Some of the guys look ridiculous,” he says. “I’m not mentioning any names but most of them are ex-England players working for a rival broadcaster.”