Angus Fraser: 'Emotional' Hussain stands down to allow younger players to step up

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The Independent Online

It was impossible to predict which Nasser Hussain would walk through the dressing-room door on any given day. On mornings when something had upset the former England captain it was best to leave him alone. If you crossed him he would be at your throat like a Rottweiler. On other days he would be like a cuddly little puppy in the corner of the room, laughing, joking and joining in with the banter.

The two sides of Hussain at times made him difficult to deal with. Pride often prevented him from apologising even when he knew he was wrong but colleagues forgave him because his commitment could never be doubted and you knew he did not really mean what he said.

Yesterday, while he tearfully announced his retirement from all forms of cricket with immediate effect, we witnessed the poodle in the 36-year-old. "I am emotional because giving up cricket is a big day in my life," Hussain said. "It is not because I am sad. It is just that cricket has meant so much to me.

"I have been thinking about it for a while, trying to decide when would be the best time to go. But I made the decision in my hotel room on Sunday night. Age has been catching up with me and my body. The mind, the fire in my stomach and my eyes, possibly, have started to deteriorate.

"I was willing to fight against that, the opposition and the people who have been writing me off, as I have always done. But I was not willing to fight against youth ­ not my youth, but youth in the form of Andrew Strauss, who put his hand up in the last Test and decided to score a lot of runs. There are also a few other players too like [Robert] Key, [Ian] Bell, [Ian] Ward and [Scott] Newman. They are getting runs and warrant consideration."

Despite thinking of retirement, Hussain cobbled together one last effort. That he achieved this surprised nobody because he has often been at his best when he has had a point to prove. The careers of players with lesser pride would taper off but Hussain's desire to succeed made him the cricketer he was.

"Monday was an incredible day for me," he said. "It clarified my thoughts. To do it [score an unbeaten 103] here at Lord's, to hit my final shot through the covers for four ­ my favourite shot ­ and to win the game for England was a massive thing. To have Graham Thorpe at the other end, a huge friend of mine, to walk through the Long Room, to finish on a high in a Test match and to do all that with pressure on my back was fantastic. In a selfish way I have been looking for some sort of reward for the effort I have put in over the years and I got it on Monday in every possible way."

By Test standards Hussain was a good batsman. The right-hander did not need telling that his technique was flawed but he loved a good scrap and made up for his shortcomings with a fierce competitive streak. It enabled him to score 5,764 runs in 96 Test matches and average 37.18.

Hussain's desire to be successful was obsessional. He worked hard in the nets and constantly tinkered with his bat handles, desperately searching for the right feel.

If he was out cheaply he was inconsolable. If he was on the wrong end of a poor umpiring decision it was time to leave the dressing-room. Bats, gloves, helmets, they would all fly across the room along with a tirade of expletives. If the third umpire had had a microphone in England's dressing room Hussain would probably have spent half of his career banned.

On one occasion in Trinidad it was a wooden slatted locker door which felt the brunt of his frustration. I was padding up when he screamed and put his fist through it. The problem was that his fist became stuck and he had to call for help to get it out. Five minutes passed before his hand was carefully removed and even he had seen the funny side.

Hussain's England career lasted 14 years but his biggest contribution came in the last five. When he took over as captain in 1999 after a disastrous World Cup, English cricket was in a dire state. But in the next four years Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, the coach, turned England into a competitive, disciplined team.

His passionate and demanding style of captaincy may not have pleased everyone ­ including the odd team-mate ­ but he will rightly go down as one of the best leaders England produced. The captaincy absorbed him. He lived it and took failure personally. He would often be seen walking around hotel lobbies in his own little world worrying about the job he was doing and how he could get things right.

This reached a climax in the 2003 World Cup when the players were forced to deliberate on whether they should play a qualifying match in Zimbabwe. The pressure wore him down and broke his desire to continue as captain. His commitment and effort deserved a better finale.

Hussain's decision to retire should be respected but it is disappointing as the side still needs him. Replacing Hussain will be harder than most people think.

He made his Test debut in the same match as Alec Stewart in February 1990 but had to wait six and a half years before establishing himself in the side. He resented this oversight and throughout his time on the side-lines he was quite happy to tell the captain he should be playing.

Hussain's treatment at the start of his career and during the Zimbabwe affair will have influenced the timing of his retirement. He would not have wanted to go there again this autumn and his desire not to stand in the way of younger batsmen is another part of the reason for him leaving, but after so many years at the whim of others he wanted to control the final chapter.

"I am happy with my decision," he said. "I know it is slightly selfish, and I apologise for that, because I don't like going in the middle of a series when there is unfinished business. But if I carry on, I do believe things will get messy.

"I do not want to get to the stage where I am only being selected because I am approaching 100 Tests or because I am a former England captain. I am also a proud man who does not want someone coming up to me and say 'Sorry, I don't think you deserve to be in an England shirt any more'. I have no regrets. I am pleased with what I achieved and I have given it my best. I will not sit down when I am 70 and think that I did not get the most out of my ability."

Hussain paid tribute to the two people who had the biggest influence on his career. "There are a lot of people I would like to thank. But the two I would like to thank most are Duncan Fletcher, who is a great man, and my dad. Everything I have done has been for him and I hope he is proud of me." He should be.

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