Cricket: Hollioake's short and sweet term

One-day series: A fresh start, a fresh figurehead and a fresh approach to facing West Indies; Derek Pringle in Barbados feels the truncated game suits a never-say-die leader
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The Independent Online
IT wasn't so long ago that one-day cricket in England was considered the remit of those with short attention spans. But fashions change even quicker than England cricket captains and one-day cricket can at last claim parity with its older relative.

Consequently, Adam Hollioake, the captain for the five-match series against the West Indies which starts here today, can probably claim equal status to his Test counterpart, if there were one, and he will now find himself the focus of attention until a successor for the longer game is found.

It took Michael Atherton just over four years and seven months to go from future England captain (the letters FEC were daubed on his cricket case soon after he joined Lancashire), to former England captain. In a game once weighed down by sentiment, it may interest Hollioake to know that in the aftermath of his resignation, Atherton received just one consolatory phone call. And that from the former England coach Keith Fletcher.

Perhaps Atherton was unpopular with the powerbrokers at Lord's (unlikely after 52 Tests in charge). Or maybe it is just that the hard-nosed business acumen of Lord MacLaurin has finally taking hold at the England Cricket Board. Whatever the reason, it was fairly inconsiderate.

They are largely different animals Hollioake and Atherton, the Surrey man's visceral approach at odds with the Lancastrian's more cerebral methods. Indeed Hollioake appears to be bilingual, being fluent in both body language as well as "Strine" (Aussie) English.

But while Atherton was mildly perplexed rather than upset by his sudden pariah status on becoming an ex-captain, Hollioake, a thoroughly hip cricketer, would probably have accepted it as part of the package. After all, disposability is one of the cornerstones of the modern age.

In some ways, Atherton may well be the last of the old- fashioned captains. A tad too razor-shy and scruffy for pukka traditionalists, he is none the less a product of the old county system, a cloistered decision-proof world a boundary-length apart from the keening realities of life on the street.

Yet if both are resolutely team men, a fact movingly illustrated when several players had moist eyes following Atherton's decision to quit, only Hollioake is a PR dream. If you want to know who out of Brian Lara and Vodafone would prefer Hollioake to be captain of England, the jury would be out only on Lara.

It is not an easy thing to please players, public and sponsors, and it requires the ability to flit between personae, a faculty Atherton neither countenanced nor possessed to any discernable degree. Hollioake appears to have it in spades. At his first press conference since Sharjah, where he led a custom-picked side to victory, he said all the right things. He even payed testimony to the man he replaced, emphasising that although Atherton was not the kind of bloke you'd worry about meeting in a dark alley, no one was mentally tougher.

However, with 11 of the 15 players he led in Sharjah here, he did stop short when asked if Atherton would get a game over the next fortnight. "Mike's a very good and experienced one-day player," he said. "The trouble is there are 15 other good one-day players and he'll have to fight it out." In other words bring your cocktail shaker Athers, you're mixing the drinks.

Only 5ft 10in, Hollioake is none the less an impressive physical specimen who possesses the curious combination of being both intimate and intimidatory. It is a beguiling mixture and one which can seemingly be turned on or off simply by hiding his large, soft brown eyes, usually behind sunglasses.

Intimidation is a useful weapon to have for it roots out players with weak dispositions. In the Test series, the West Indies batsmen planned to get after both Phil Tufnell and Andy Caddick because they knew it would upset their confidence. It worked and neither was the bowler who routed Australia at the Oval. As someone with an Australian background, Hollioake has a less subtle way and often requires eye contact or a verbal assist. Mind you, in an age of prying cameras, speaking your mind with a drawl may be no bad thing.

One-day cricket suits Hollioake. It is his vocation and fits his style of risk and never-say-die effort. Acceptance at Test level may be a goal, but it will probably prove an elusive one, particularly if England do the right thing and turn to his younger brother sooner rather than later. In any case, he ought not to lose too much sleep over it. Winning the World Cup will bring him all the kudos he desires. Both Hollioakes will be in action today at the Kensington Oval. Ben, after a successful A tour of Kenya and Sri Lanka where he scored two centuries, will bat at three as a pinch hitter. "Ben's pretty confident at the moment," confided his big brother. "After the winter tour he's hitting it pretty well and I'm looking forward to seeing him against Ambrose and Walsh.

"If his mind is right his talent can be phenomenal. He told me before he went away to Sri Lanka that he would come back as player of the tour, and he did. It's only his second one-day international and West Indies are a difficult bowling side to pinch hit against. Knowing Ben he won't die wondering though."

The series should make exciting viewing, not least because the West Indies have also picked an electric batting line-up. All the big guns, Brian Lara, Philo Wallace, Clayton Lambert, Stuart Williams, Phil Simmons, Carl Hooper, are here, and if everything clicks, England could face scores resembling telephone numbers. Being sponsored by a mobile phone company may have its benefits after all.

Unless unforeseen injury strikes late on, Hollioake will be surrounded by nine of the side who beat the West Indies in Sharjah. England's one- day captain is sticking to a team he knows and trusts. But as Atherton found out during his time as captain, gaining the love and respect of your troops is one thing. Leading them to consistent success, quite another.

England (probable): A Stewart (wkt), N Knight, B Hollioake, G Hick, G Thorpe, A Hollioake (capt), M Ealham, D Brown, M Fleming, R Croft, D Headley.

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