Cricket: Hollioake's philosophy helps England to have some fun

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The Independent Online
England go into today's Champions Trophy final against the West Indies in Sharjah full of confidence and as favourites but Derek Pringle warns that they underestimate their opponents at their peril.

This was not the final the organisers were hoping for. Like two interlopers who had drunk the bar dry and polished of the food, England and the West Indies, who compete today for the Akai-Singer Champions Trophy, have spoilt the party. For only the second time in Sharjah cricket's 16-year history history, neither India or Pakistan will feature in the final, a fact that is certain not to please their countrymen who make up the lion's share of the workforce within these wealthy princedoms.

As the only side with an unbeaten record, as well as a decade of one- day dominance over the West Indies, England must surely start favourites. They are a confident team led by a confident young captain and playing ultra efficient cricket. Adam Hollioake may dread all manner of things, but none of them seem to exist on a cricket field, a characteristic that appears to have rubbed off wholesale on his team.

There is less formality on display too and players feel at liberty to enjoy themselves. At the official dinner on Wednesday night, England's players, led by Alec Stewart who danced a waltz with a belly-dancer, entered into the fun. Graham Thorpe, not someone you normally find swinging from the chandeliers, then delivered a strikingly good imitation of Geoff Boycott to the 600 guests before Hollioake senior, rarely a shrinking violet took to the stage and attempted to balance a walking cane on his nose.

For those who had witnessed the long faces in Zimbabwe a year ago, the bonhomie here has been both remarkable and contagious. Blowing hot and cold is something that has been seen as endemic within English cricket, so how did Hollioake explain the warm glow created here?

"Team atmosphere is a funny thing and it really comes down to having a few strong characters in the side," said England's one-day captain yesterday. "If the main players are whingy, moaning people then that will breed throughout the side. But if those guys are extrovert, confident and positive, then that will spread throughout the side instead.''

Citing Warwickshire's Dougie Brown as the kind of down to earth cricketer he respects, Hollioake went on to say he was looking for players who would treat the Prime Minister of Pakistan in exactly the same way as he would a rickshaw driver.

"What you find then, if you take that attitude on to the cricket field and you meet Brian Lara, is that you don't see him any differently to the bloke playing his first one-day international.

"If you don't do that, then you start saying that this player is better than that one and you start to become intimidated by them, as well as under-estimating the other guy, who you then think can't play.''

Hollioake may not yet be an orator in the Winston Churchill mould, but his philosophy is a sound one. More fittingly, it is categorically the right one to adopt against this West Indies team, now showing signs of revival after their abject tour of Pakistan, and England underestimate them at their peril.

Having been virtually down and out, Courtney Walsh's side have raised themselves here with some intelligent and spirited cricket. They may lack England's all-round soundness, but when did a West Indies side last take all the wickets to fall to bowlers with spin, as they did the other night against India?

The answer is probably not since the days of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine in the early 1950's. They may have met already once in this competition, but England must beware: this is not a conventional West Indies team, and apart from the three fast bowlers - Walsh, Merv Dillon and Franklyn Rose - they have not played conventional Caribbean cricket.

Nevertheless, with two days to prepare the pitch - the same one England have used in their previous three matches - the groundsman feels it will behave as it did during the opening game of the competition, offering less spin and more pace. Despite murmurings that Ashley Giles may come into the side, it is a combination that will probably see England play an unchanged side.

With an over-reliance on Alec Stewart, who has been superb along with the bowling and fielding, it is only the batting that can realistically be improved. Maintaining the momentum after a breezy start, has been the stumbling block for most sides, and England's middle-order must avoid being asphyxiated by leg-spinner Rawl Lewis and his off-spinning counterpart Carl Hooper.

England's bowlers too, so effective when backed by athletic razor sharp fielding must not get complacent. Lara may look out of form and generally out to lunch, but he is still the one player on both sides capable of turning the course of a match on its head. If he gets runs, both English efficiency and Hollioake's captaincy may well be given their sternest test yet.

Happily however, it is a contest that can now be seen on television in Britain, with highlight packages being shown today on BBC2 and again on Grandstand tomorrow. With Sky having made a substantial offer for live broadcast - thought to be in the region of pounds 25,000 - rejected by Worldtel, the owners of the broadcasting rights, the drama still may have a twist or turn left in it.

So, no doubt, does the cricket and win or lose, England have proved that one-day cricket is best played with what might called, all-round specialists. As the song goes, once you have seen Paris there is no going back.