Cricket: The captain of industry, leader of a team

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WHEN NASSER HUSSAIN was appointed as captain of England he might not have been everybody's cup of tea. Too self-absorbed, too insular, much too concerned with the niceties and direction of his own game, it was muttered in some quarters, to lead men at the highest level of the game.

It was recognised that he had qualities but not of the sort to inspire others. I had played against him for 12 years on the county circuit but hardly knew him. I hardly knew, therefore, what to expect in him when I came on this tour. He has been a revelation.

Hussain is a captain who makes you feel part of the team. He does this simply by letting his team members have an opinion. Several of us in the party are raw recruits to the international scene. It might have been that we were discouraged from saying anything and that anything we did say would be discarded. Not so.

Nasser has sought carefully to listen to the opinions of every player here, to increase his own obviously large knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you are Chris Read, or Michael Vaughan, or Chris Adams, or Michael Atherton or Alec Stewart you are invited to say what you want to say without fear of repercussion or retribution.

This is not to say the captain, about to start on his sixth match in the job today, is a pushover. Far from it. He is a highly focused player who knows his own mind, but he has also calculated how he might get the best out of his players. He has nurtured not a team of 11 individuals but of 11 men playing as one.

The partnership he has forged with the coach, Duncan Fletcher, looks to be one of vast promise. I remember in my days at Derbyshire learning so much from the combination of Les Stillman and Dean Jones. What made them so potent was that one's weaknesses were the other's strengths, and they knew that well enough to work as a team. After nine weeks I don't know either Fletcher or Hussain quite well enough yet, but I would guess that the same applies to them.

Hussain is a positive captain, which I like, but he is not an autocratic one on the field. He might let a bowler have a big influence on his field placings and how he wants to bowl. If it isn't working the captain might then step in to offer alternative advice, but there are many captains who stipulate the field and that's that.

Hussain also has the art of magnificent timing. He seems to know when to speak to his team. His motivational talks on this tour have invariably been wisely judged, and his words to us have been carefully chosen. He is clearly a great analyser, not a loud bloke, and what he has to say is not the result of automatic reaction, of feelings and emotion. He weighs matters, takes his time, deals in facts. None of which disguises his passion about playing cricket for his country.

So, if England have had a bad day in the field - and, OK, we have had some bad ones - he will not rant and rave, he will let it sink in. If we have had a good day he will not start dancing on the tables and patting backs. He will let that be absorbed too.

Nasser is a great believer in hard work and rest. When you work, you work, when you rest, you rest. He is still utterly determined about his own game and there probably isn't a player in the party who works as hard. When he's focused like that he is completely focused. There is no point in speaking to him, he is in his own world.

There are two former England captains in the side in Atherton and Stewart - three if you include Mark Butcher, who did the job for one Test last summer - and this could be either a blessing or a curse. Nasser looks to have used their vast knowledge well, to have learned from what they did to help him to know what to do.

We are not pally-pally, but he looks after his team, he likes a practical joke. The players to a man, I suspect, have been extremely impressed with the way he has handled the job and handled himself in it. As I write this, there is no certainty that Nasser will get out to make the toss - and it could well be a crucial one - for the Third Test in Durban. It has teemed down here for three days.

The families arrived in the middle of the week. After more than two months away it was terrific to see them again. My younger daughter has longer hair and more teeth, my elder one is at this moment eating chicken nuggets with Andrew Stewart, her fellow six-year-old. Could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.