Cricket: Hairline is a bad break for England

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The Independent Online
IT WAS definitely a defining moment: the 17th ball of the morning when Nasser Hussain got the digital phalanx of the middle finger of his right hand - the top joint - in the way of a emphatic square cut by Adam Parore. The ball slithered through Hussain's hands and dribbled towards third man, and the first evidence that this might be more than a routine misfield was the two slips' behaviour.

When Parore took off for a run, neither Graham Thorpe nor Mark Butcher chased the ball. They must have heard a cry from Hussain because they continued to look towards him as Parore saw Andy Caddick trundling in and turned for a second run. Hussain rolled backwards, clearly in pain, but after a while he rose again and took up his position in the gulley when play resumed.

He still needed help. Wayne Morton, the physiotherapist, ran on to administer first aid, but, when he left, Hussain stayed on. Only at 11.28am, 18 minutes after the blow had been struck, did he leave the field. The implications only began to sink in when we noticed Thorpe making signals to the field. Since England has no vice-captain, they had to improvise one.

Shortly after midday, Morton confirmed that Hussain had a undisplaced fracture (that's a hairline break) on that right hand middle finger. Not only would he not field again, he was unlikely to bat. Indeed, Hussain would be out for at least three weeks. He is out of the Old Trafford Test, and if the fracture does not heal quickly, Hussain could be doubtful for the Oval Test starting on 19 August.

The last time an England captain retired himself was when Graham Gooch ate a raw prawn in Madras in 1992-93. But he was out for only one Test, and he had already felt his way into the job. This dismal digit is a calamity for England and for Hussain, and it looks as though it will be compounded by the result of this Lord's Test.

David Graveney, chairman of selectors, confirmed the evidence of our own eyes. Thorpe would be captain for the time being, he said, but the longer-term situation would be considered over the next few days. In a statement, Hussain himself said that it was a complete disappointment for himself and the team, though he was still confident that England could compete successfully in the game. At the time, New Zealand were 329-7, 141 ahead ahead, and his optimism was not widely shared by England supporters. Anyway, speculation about the captaincy was already off and running.

First thing. Why did Thorpe take precedence over the only other player to be interviewed when Hussain took over from Alec Stewart - Mark Ramprakash, who was cutting a forelorn figure at long leg or third man? Second, are England in for another summer of a multiple captaincy. We have already had three: Stewart, Hussain, and Thorpe. A fourth seems inevitable: Ramprakash is favourite, but there are two veterans who could fill the gap - Stewart, at a pinch, and an in-form Lancashire batsman by the name of Atherton. The last time this happened was in 1988 when Mike Gatting, Graham Gooch, John Emburey and Christopher Cowdrey were appointed captain, and the legendary Derek Pringle took over for a couple of sessions at the Oval when Gooch was injured. It was only one of the qualifications for his being hired by this newspaper group as a cricket writer some years ago.

Thorpe proved to be an undemonstrative captain. Only a churl would criticise his performance, but he might have brought on Phil Tufnell a little earlier, and, if he really were captain, he would have had his work cut out reassuring Chris Read, the keeper, who was having a torrid time. His difficulties were not confined to keeping to Tufnell when he came on at 12.17am. Read seemed to be suffering from a crisis of confidence which would test the mastery of even the finest of captains.