Cricket: Hollioake sparks leap of faith

Derek Pringle, in Sharjah, says that a new sense of self-belief can take England far
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The Independent Online
You know you have made it in the Emirates when a cordon is thrown around you and men in suits escort you to your very own bar. Adam Hollioake's victorious England side have achieved much on this tour, but getting their own bar at the team hotel was probably the crowning moment in a fortnight full of pleasing episodes for English cricket.

With VIP status assured in Sharjah and the Champions Cup brought home in breathtaking style, all that remains is for Hollioake to be appointed captain for the one-day series in West Indies. It is a decision the selectors are expected to make soon with an announcement sometime between Christmas and New Year. The appointment, merely awaiting ratification from David Graveney's fellow selectors Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch, will set off the inevitable comparisons between Hollioake and Michael Atherton, the Test captain and the man he succeeds in the one-day job.

Some, especially those who have a knee-jerk reaction to success, will even suggest that Hollioake, with his up-front, down to earth approach, should usurp the more cerebral Atherton completely. What is certain is that, should England take the camaraderie and buzz so evident in Sharjah with them to the West Indies, a series victory would be that little bit more likely.

In truth, neither skipper can be certain of a role in the other's domain at the moment, as England's Test and one-day cricket begins to specialise and take divergent paths.

Both as leaders and people the pair are quite different. But while Atherton is tough and unbending in mind and spirit, and has a "beware of the dog" shell intended to keep outsiders where they belong, Hollioake is an open book, albeit one written in the kind of language that would intimidate a rhino.

Atherton's characteristics, while winning him few casual friends, have nevertheless helped him triumph in adversity. As England's greatest match- saving batsman, he is forced to dredge deep to inspire his team. This often drains him, leaving him with little body language to enthuse those around him.

Conversely, this is Hollioake's strength and even when he has failed - as he did many times in Sharjah - others are still able to take succour from his presence. Mind you, if the pair can dovetail, there is no reason why they should not make a formidable team at the helm of the country's national sides.

For Sharjah, though, Hollioake deserves the plaudits. Well prepared and imaginatively led, his was an England one-day side who knew no constraints. In the final, and given the position Graham Thorpe and Matthew Fleming found themselves in - 72 wanted from 10 overs with four wickets standing - most teams would have lost.

Of course, it could simply be that the victory was first time lucky. Yet with this side you get the feeling that they might keep doing it, so long as the West Indies, with their propensity to panic, were the opponents.

The sheer self-belief in the final when the West Indies' moniker had all but been inscribed on the silverware told of a side with a near religious lack of uncertainty. In fact, if there was a magic formula, it was that, and a glut of all-rounders.

Yet even the early skirmishes, despite the batting lapses in the middle- order, gave notice of a team burning with energy and efficiency, especially in the field, where the benchmark set by the athletic South Africans may well have been surpassed.

That does not mean they played perfect cricket, far from it. If this England team are to continue to evolve, one or two roles - the pinch hitter, for example - will have to be re-explored before the World Cup. Alistair Brown, a thumping success for Surrey, simply does not possess the same range of stroke as, say, Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya.

The men of the tournament for England - Alec Stewart, 34, and Matthew Fleming, 33 - were also the oldest. Stewart, in superb touch against the new ball, passed 50 three times and was the cornerstone. Fleming was undoubtedly the find of the tournament, with his frenetic cameo in the final and his shrewd "death" bowling turning at least two games England's way.

Others, too, such as the unerringly accurate Mark Ealham, and the cool Thorpe - all made vital contributions as England beat three Test-playing nations, three more than in the last World Cup. Before talk turns to the next one, it should be remembered that England, despite looking as if they have turned an important corner - they have won their last seven one-day internationals - have scaled only a minor peak. Bigger mountains lie in wait.