Henry Blofeld: Hussain needs to exchange tormented soul for sense of fun in Test series

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The Independent Online

Now that the sterner, more formal part of the season is about to begin, one hopes that the English and South African players will remember some of the lessons of the last few weeks. It is a long time since cricket in England has been on such a high. The various one-day competitions, on both the international and the domestic front, have played a considerable part.

Cricket may not yet get football off the back pages of the tabloids, but with England's comprehensive defeat of South Africa in the NatWest Series at Lord's, it will have caused some furious head- scratching. The general perception is that cricket has once again become good fun and most of that awful, pompous solemnity has been kicked into touch.

The icing on the cake has undoubtedly been provided by the new Twenty20 competition, which does not allow even a split-second for pomp or circumstance. Those who took part will have loved it because there is nothing better than playing to a full house just as there is nothing worse and more conducive to mind-boggling solemnity than an audience of two men and a dog.

Of course, the players involved in the recent one-day international series were not able to take part in this joyful helter-skelter. Naturally, they will have talked to their county colleagues and will have heard what fun it all was and that it was, most significantly, not a facile corruption of the sacred arts of the game.

Test cricket by its very nature is a more stately form of the game. Having said that, though, in the last few years it has come on apace as a vehicle for entertainment. If one had to lay that charge at one man's door, the accolades would go to Australia's Adam Gilchrist whose batting in the middle order has caused a revolution in the way that Test cricket is played.

Runs are being scored at a much greater rate and drawn matches are the exception rather than the rule. With fluent strokemakers such as the two Jacques, Kallis and Rudolph, on the South African side, and Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan playing for England, there should be plenty of entertainment. And this is before "Freddie" Flintoff has been mentioned.

Flintoff has at last begun to show signs of knowing how to live with the enormous ability nature has given him. His bowling and fielding is excellent, but it is his batting which really seems to be coming on. At six or seven in the batting order in the Test matches, there is no reason why he should not begin to turn in the sort of performances that have made Gilchrist so invaluable to Australia.

There are enough good players to provide plenty of entertainment between now and the end of the first week in September. But they would still do well to remember that not the least important of their jobs is to entertain. There is no need to resort to frivolous stupidity, but the game must be kept moving and it is important that the big crowds that will be at all five Test matches are not allowed to take disillusionment home with them. The players in this forthcoming series have a bigger than usual responsibility on their shoulders. They must play their cricket like entrepreneurs, not bureaucrats.

A great deal will depend on the two captains, and both will take a certain apprehension into the series with them. Nasser Hussain, of England, has had to watch the one-day internationals from afar and he would not be human if he did not feel a certain unease at the plaudits Vaughan has received for his efforts at captaining his country for the first time. Hussain will be the more anxious because they are such different captains.

Vaughan has been relaxed, in control, at ease with himself and inclusive as far as the rest of his players are concerned. He has captained the side as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Hussain, on the other hand, goes through stages when he looks like a soul in torment. There is an obsessiveness about his captaincy that does not often run to humour.

When batting, Hussain gives off a much greater awareness of the likely effects of failure than is so with Vaughan. Again, with the bat in his hand he is more the tortured soul. One hears, too, that on the recent tour of Australia he communicated with his younger players more by remote control than direct contact, which would not be Vaughan's way. Hussain's own cricket will be a greater worry to him than Vaughan's and this will make his overall job harder.

The 22-year-old Graeme Smith will also be worrying about his own form and he may be sure that England's bowlers will be targeting him. When a captain who is a batsman becomes seriously short of runs, it more than doubles his problems. But in worrying about themselves, the two captains must not let this series stagnate for if that happens it will do great damage to the game.

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