Cricket: Hollioake needs to convince sceptics

FOR one man, the result of today's Texaco Trophy match at Old Trafford will have all the importance of a World Cup final. Adam Hollioake may not have sought the one-day captaincy of his country, but you can tell he likes the new uniform. Yet fashion is a fickle thing and unless his team beat South Africa today and get back into the three-match series, he may well find himself wearing civvies to next summer's big event.

Hollioake is a leader caught between orthodoxies; a modern captain of a rapidly mutating game still run by traditionalists. As a result, the divergent paths that England's one-day and Test players now find themselves treading are perhaps not as distinct as many believe, with the need for separate captains still hotly debated.

But if Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, both of them former England captains as well as selectors, are believed to favour a single captain - as the initial appointment of Mike Atherton for the one-day series in the Caribbean would suggest - the England coach, David Lloyd, is clearly in the "two captains" camp.

Having been an important part of Hollioake's barnstorming wins in Sharjah, Lloyd feels that the bumpy ride being given to Hollioake, particularly following Thursday's loss, is more than a little unfair.

"I thought Adam had a good game," said Lloyd yesterday. "He played really well with the bat. He's a strapping lad who likes to hit the ball, but losing four quick wickets forced him to move it around instead.

"He also handled the bowlers well and showed imagination. When certain batters came in, he wasn't afraid to change things immediately. I felt he bossed the situation and made South Africa work hard for their runs."

Making teams work hard is not the same as winning, which is what England normally do in home one-day series, and what Hollioake needs to convince the sceptics that separate captains are indeed the way forward.

"I know we are capable of winning the next two games," said Lloyd. "There might be a lot of talk about next year's World Cup, but at the moment the priority is to win this series."

To achieve that, particularly against a side as well drilled as South Africa, England will have to make good the loss of Graham Thorpe, whose bad back has forced him to withdraw from the remaining matches.

Thorpe is a pivotal player, and his expertise at marshalling the middle overs - the most difficult place to bat in one-day cricket - will be badly missed.

In fact it is essentially where England went wrong at The Oval. They gambled on two debutants, Chris Adams and Darren Maddy, to do the job that Jacques Kallis and Hansie Cronje, 182 caps between them, did so well for South Africa.

Yet while it would be harsh to judge the pair on one outing, it is difficult to see England picking both of them today, and either Alistair Brown or Matthew Fleming could be brought in.

Finding out about certain players is never an easy business over a couple of games. The selectors may feel comfortable with the spirit of experimentation extant in this squad, but you get the impression that it is a feeling not shared by Hollioake. As a captain under scrutiny, he has far more at stake than the soon-to-be-forgotten outcome of yet another one-day game.