Cricket: Now Hollioake has to cope with pressure factor

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NO SOONER have England appointed a new captain than the spotlight of doubt falls on another. Two captains were always a good idea while England's one-day side was undergoing change.

But change is a fast moving force in limited-overs cricket and, with the shape of the team metamorphosing almost as quickly, Adam Hollioake finds his position under pressure. Whether he accepts it or not, and Hollioake rarely accepts the current orthodoxy, he is a leader whose trial begins today, against South Africa in the first Texaco Trophy one-day international at his home ground of The Oval.

His opponents are formidable. With 18 wins from 22 games over the past year, South Africa are currently the best one-day side in the world, and the three-match examination facing Hollioake - whose tally after a poor showing in the West Indies now reads won 5, lost 4 - is likely to prove the most rigorous of his captaincy career.

"When I go home at night, I don't feel as if I'm on trial," said Hollioake after yesterday's practice. "Yet everyone tells me I am. So I suppose I am."

"I don't think anyone expected me to be the finished article at 26. One of the reasons I was made captain in the build-up to the World Cup is that it would be a learning process. If I don't learn from what happened in the West Indies, I'm wasting everyone's time."

He could be slightly indisposed even before a ball is bowled, should Graham Thorpe, England's most consistent one-day batsman, fail a fitness test on a back spasm this morning.

It is not the first time that Thorpe - who suffered the spasm on Sunday during a routine fielding drill - has been afflicted, and he suffered something similar during the Barbados Test. Although that appeared to clear up, he returned home early to rest the complaint, which, according to England's physiotherapist, Wayne Morton, is a problem that probably stems from a displaced facet joint in the player's lower back.

Nasser Hussain, a player David Graveney said was close to selection last weekend, is standing by and will almost certainly play should Thorpe fail to recover in time.

Hussain has never made a secret over his annoyance at being overlooked for one-day cricket. A fine fielder and an adaptable batsman, his tally of just 12 appearances has nonplussed many. "I'm not exactly angry at missing out," he said after his call-up. "When England play the pinch- hitting option the whole country is batting for just two or three places. It's a hard team to break into.

"I know they haven't finalised the World Cup squad and that it's open to anyone. If I get my chance hopefully I'll grab it. I've never played against South Africa before. So it will be nice to see their bowlers, whether it's watching Thorpey bat, or actually being there myself."

The theory behind Hussain's probable inclusion, despite the disparity in the pair's batting averages - Thorpe 40, Hussain 19.3 - is that he will replace like with like; a man to manoeuvre the ball when the field is spread, after the pinch-hitters like Nick Knight and Chris Adams have inflicted some damage in the first 15 overs.

Trying to curtail the pyrotechnics of South Africa's pinch-hitter, Lance Klusener, will be the job of the returning new-ball pair of Darren Gough and Chris Lewis. Hamstrung by a lack of choice in what was a bevy of medium-pacers in the West Indies, Hollioake feels that he is better equipped to make things happen in the field.

Apart from the beige pitch, a surface South Africa's captain, Hansie Cronje, yesterday described as "awesome," The Oval is a large ground and England may be tempted to add further to their variety of bowlers by playing both specialist spinners. If they do, Matthew Fleming could be the unlucky man to miss out, though Thorpe's injury will postpone the final selection until this morning.

The slow drip pressure of speculation has conspired to downgrade many a career. Hollioake, a man who appears to thrive on pressure, is adamant that he is not one of those who will be affected.

"Pressure is something you put on yourself. I don't feel any at the moment. In fact, the moment my game feels good and I'm confident of my captaincy. Why should I think negatively?" Why indeed?

ENGLAND (probable): N V Knight, A J Stewart (wkt), C J Adams, D L Maddy, N Hussain, A J Hollioake (capt), M A Ealham, C C Lewis, D Gough, R D B Croft, A F Giles.

SOUTH AFRICA (probable): G Kirsten, G F J Liebenberg, L Klusener, J H Kallis, D J Cullinan, W J Cronje (capt), J N Rhodes, S M Pollock, M V Boucher (wkt), P L Symcox, A A Donald.

Yorkshire expect to have around 2,000 tickets available on the day of the match for the third Texaco Trophy one-day international between England and South Africa at Headingley on Sunday.