Cricket: Young Hollioake provides food for thought

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The Independent Online
Somewhere among Alistair Cooke's marvellous commentaries on the American way of life there is reference to opinions expressed many years ago by the cowboy philosopher Will Rogers after watching a Test match at Lord's.

Rogers thought cricket was fine but, to quote Cooke, "the lunch and tea intervals made him restless". Asked by the Prince of Wales if the game could ever take hold in the United States, he thought it might, with one improvement. "Before the game starts," he said, "I'd line the teams up and say, `Now, listen, fellas, no food till you're through'."

Neither natives nor travellers grew restless during the one interval at Lord's on Saturday because it provided some relief from the mundane nature of proceedings. Eventually, there was some fine batting from young Ben Hollioake, who appears to have a big future internationally, and Alec Stewart, but it was never a game to set the pulse racing.

Shaped by Kent's inability to set Surrey a target that would have required some risk taking, it became a one-day match played to a four-day formula. Once Surrey had moved quietly on to three figures for the loss of only one wicket nobody in their right mind would have bet against them. Barring a rush of blood, the game by then was more or less or over and when Surrey pushed on to 150 without losing another wicket many Kent supporters were heading for the exits.

If the improvisations of one-day cricket are frequently an insult to tradition they are nevertheless central to its excitement. If they are not required from the chasing team, and barring the abberations Surrey have shown themselves capable of this season, both in the County Championship and in defence of their Sunday league title, the interest becomes academic.

My heart is with Glamorgan but having lived in Kent for more years than is comfortable to remember I have developed a feel for Kent's aspirations. Encouraged by the televised interview one of their former stalwarts, Colin Cowdrey, gave on Friday evening, I took off for Lord's expecting a much closer contest. Surrey have many fine players, and were made odds-on favourites, but the general impression was that Kent would make a game of it.

Remembering that Kent had lost three Benson and Hedges finals when in the role of pursuers, their captain, Steve Marsh opted to bat first on winning the toss. This proved to be loose thinking. Conforming to the fashion of forcing the pace in the first 15 overs, they were quickly in trouble. After eight overs they had lost three wickets, one, that of Matthew Fleming, to a dubious lbw decision and never recovered.

Gloom soon settled on the contingent from Kent. Some enterprising work by Mark Ealham and Nigel Llong raised their hopes briefly, but a total of 212 was never going to be good enough.

Alistair Brown's departure from only the fourth ball he faced caused some optimism in the Kent ranks and perhaps Surrey to think about their collapse from a winning position against Nottinghamshire last week in the Nat West trophy.

But then came the younger Hollioake, still only 19, to provide further proof of his potential. A fault of sports coverage, both in newspapers and across the air waves, is to promote young players before their time, but 98 runs in his first cup final following 63 against Australia in the third Texaco Trophy match suggests merit in the old tenet of if they are good enough they are old enough.

Kent's lingering hope disappeared with the elegant serenity of Hollioake's batting. His brother, Adam, the Surrey captain, said: "He took the game from Kent. He has strength of character and the ability to play on a big stage."

Sensibly, Ben Hollioake put forward the view that he doesn't yet think himself close to the biggest stage of all: Test cricket. "I would have settled for a first ball duck if we had come out winning," he added.