Cricket: Fighting talk of a warrior

Andrew Longmore discusses the issue of leadership with Adam Hollioake
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The question was simple, the answer tellingly swift. Had, Adam Hollioake was asked at the end of an acrimonious drawn game against Glamorgan last week, he considered throwing away runs to lure his opponents into chasing the target, a common practice in English county cricket? "No, never. I don't deal in that. Graham Thorpe has battled four or five hours for every single run to get us back into this match and I'm not about to start throwing them away."

Adam Hollioake has a direct gaze and strong principles, inherited from a father weaned in Australian grade cricket and a mother born in Fiji. "Her father was a warrior," Hollioake says. "So it's in our blood to battle, to fight. That's just the way we are." The family returned once to the island to find the grave of their grandfather, without success. It would probably puzzle the old man to learn that two of his grandsons - Ben and Adam - have chosen the mild world of English professional cricket as an outlet for their competitive instincts. Puzzles the elder Hollioake sometimes too. Long after Glamorgan had scuttled home clutching their measly draw, he was shaking his head in disbelief. "How can you play a great game of cricket for four days and not want to know who's the better team?" That was the point. Hollioake boxed in his youth, admires Evander Holyfield and loves the Rocky films.

At the lowest point of an often wretched summer, England needed an intravenous drip of the Hollioake spirit. Adam Hollioake, the word went out, spoke with a marked Australian accent and had an awesome will to win, just the man to inspire a lacklustre side to new fervour. The idea had a surprising number of sponsors. Hollioake himself was not among them.

"If I'd have been offered the Test captaincy, I wouldn't have taken it, wouldn't even have considered it. I wouldn't be able to look other players in the face, to go out there telling them what to do when I've not done it myself. How could I do that? I'm not that sort of person. Obviously, it would have been good financially and guaranteed me a place in the side, but that's not what I'm about. If I never play Test cricket again, it won't be through lack of trying, it will be because I'm not good enough. I can handle that. What I couldn't handle is playing 20 Tests when I didn't deserve to. All I want in life is to go out there, to try my hardest and get what I deserve. I don't want any more than that."

Hollioake turned 26 last Friday and this weekend he will be considered by the England selectors as a potential captain of the one-day touring team to Sharjah in December, the first step on the way to the 1999 World Cup. He has heard nothing yet, is aware too of the dangers of being labelled a one-day specialist after the Texaco Trophy heroics, despite a first- class average of 45. What if the job was offered? "I'd have to sit down and think about it," he says with disarming honesty. "There are so many things going on in my life, you wouldn't believe and I'm not the sort of bloke who can think of five things at once. I'm trying to take one thing at a time. Now I'm thinking no further ahead than my next innings."

Dave Gilbert, the coach at Surrey, has no such qualms. "Sharjah would be the ideal situation. It would give England a chance to look at him. He's a mere baby as far as captaincy is concerned, but he has presence. If you knew nothing about the Surrey players and you saw them on the field, you would know who was the captain. He has a very confident way of carrying himself." A born leader, he adds.

Yet even Hollioake's well publicised captaincy credentials have been taxed to the limit by a Surrey dressing-room of all the talents. Initially overawed by the weight of Test experience around him, Hollioake strayed from his roots. The turning point came after a dismal defeat by Nottinghamshire in the NatWest. Surrey batted defensively, were complacent and folded with a meekness which shocked the captain. "I've never seen him as low as he was then," Gilbert said. Four days of soul-searching later, a revitalised Surrey won the Benson and Hedges Cup final in a stroll and began a strong run in the Championship.

"Apart from my brother I've played the least amount of first-class cricket of anyone in the team," Hollioake explains. "So it's hard to think I'm right over Alec Stewart. Obviously, I've got to listen to my seniors, but recently I've started doing it my way more. I've always been a massive, massive, team man. I'm not a great student of the game, my captaincy comes down to motivation and making people want to win. I know I'm a streetfighter, a bit of a scrapper. If I'm playing soccer, I can't play half-heartedly, if I'm bowling in the nets it's the same. If I do it half-heartedly, it drives me mad and nothing drives me more mad than seeing others in my side doing it.

"It's like that innings of Thorpy's today. I've got so much respect for that. He really gutsed it out. I've got much more respect for that than for someone who goes out and smacks a 100 in 50 balls." Like brother Ben, the talented one. "Yeah, he's got a lot to learn. I like people who battle, make the most of what they have, I want to be like Steve Waugh. Atherton, I've got respect for him because he gets in there, takes it on the body and won't back down." You can only imagine then the emotions which followed his passive dismissal by Shane Warne at The Oval, standing like a sentry as his middle stump was trimmed. "A total nightmare," he says with a shake of the head. "But you've just got to get on with it."