Nasser Hussain has come a long way to be captain of England. Yesterday he went back to Madras where he was born nearly 34 years ago. It was not quite the ancient Dravidian Sun God riding into town on his chariot but it was an emotional return.
The next three days will be a prolonged homecoming for him, at least on the part of the people he left behind. Hussain was later than the welcoming committee had hoped and expected after waiting for so long. The flight down the east coast of India was delayed for hours, something which would not have happened to the Dravidian Sun God.
England will play India in the third one-day international at the Chepauk Stadium here tomorrow and even the vehement home support may be diminished by Hussain's presence. He left Madras when he was five with his English mother and Indian father, but it was the place where he first saw the game that was to become his life, where he first held a bat.
"I knew we were there soon because of the amount of calls to my room," Hussain said. "And my dad's rung up to say, 'make sure you've got the tickets'. I think the chap at Madras Cricket Club is going to do something for me at the ground the night before the game and the family are organising a dinner so it will be a hard two or three days. It's going to be a proud moment for myself and my family."
Nobody could feel more honoured than Hussain to lead England's cricket team, few could be more steadfast in their Englishness. Yet the greeting he has received here, allied to his closeness to his father, Joe, who has probably waited for this game all Nasser's career, will doubtless stay with him always.
"I have a conjunction here," he said. "I have emotional ties to my dad and for him it will be very special. A lot of my cricket and who I am is through my old man so in that way it's a huge game for me because it's such a big game for him.
"I presume cricket started for me here, walking round the ground and watching my dad and brothers play and things like that. But everything I know and everything I've learned about the game is through England."
Hussain last returned to his home town 16 years ago. "I went back before university in 1986 and just played three months. I had a few games at Chepauk but this is completely different."
Different indeed. Hussain was a teenager with fierce ambition and a volatile temperament then. He has come back to his roots as a mature cricketer and a leader of men, a captain with a plan to change the face of English cricket (though his ambition, it should be stressed, is no less fierce). The improvement in the Test team is discernible. The catastrophic Ashes series of last summer for part of which he was, crucially, injured may be seen now as a blip.
After a period in which he seemed not to be paying quite as much attention to the one-day side of the coin, the indications are unmistakable that he is addressing that. When Hussain stepped into Anna Airport soon after 8pm yesterday he did so behind a bunch of cricketers who form the best fielding side ever to have represented England.
Their dropped catches in the last game seemed, perversely, to enhance their other qualities. It is an immensely significant step towards England becoming a competitive limited overs side again. Without a team of constantly sharp fielders you are probably handing between 10 and 20 runs a game to the opposition, sometimes more, which means making a match of it becomes a shade tougher than it ought to be.
The balance is not right yet in this side but Hussain is no doubt thinking of that too in most of his waking hours. He is ruthless in trying to fulfil his vision but he appears to have unwavering loyalty.
Hussain is playing it down as much as he can but his nature suggests that he would love nothing more dearly than to win here tomorrow. Indeed, only his father might want it more.
"It's an easy position for me when for some people it's not. I've always been English, I'm proud of my roots, proud of my English side, proud of being England captain," he said. "Everything I know, all my schoolboy heroes in both football and cricket have been English so there's no worries there. But what I do have also is a close alliance with my dad, I'm proud of what he has done for me."
Hussain is not the first man to be born in India who went on to captain England. He follows Douglas Jardine and Colin Cowdrey. The latter, at least, is still held in great affection here. Hussain's case is slightly different for he is not a son of the Raj.
"I've enjoyed this winter because I've had no ill feeling at all," he said. "I don't think the team have either. Everywhere the bus goes they've been waving at us and there's been no booing or anything."
Madras was the first British settlement in 1639 when the East India Company set up in the village of Madraspatnam. It became Chennai in 2000, so as to more accurately reflect the state's Tamil majority. If Hussain manages to lead England to victory tomorrow, they may really think the Dravidian Sun God has come back.Reuse content