Hussain determined to end run drought

Four wickets with four balls: Butcher claims a piece of history
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Just as the walls of Jericho tumbled to the trill of a trumpet, West Indies' fast bowlers have toppled Test teams by targeting their captains. Nasser Hussain knew this long before his run shortage became a drought. But if some might tremble at the prospect of being singled out for special treatment by Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, his Essex team-mates believe a roughing up may just be what the England captain needs to shake him from his torpor.

Just as the walls of Jericho tumbled to the trill of a trumpet, West Indies' fast bowlers have toppled Test teams by targeting their captains. Nasser Hussain knew this long before his run shortage became a drought. But if some might tremble at the prospect of being singled out for special treatment by Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, his Essex team-mates believe a roughing up may just be what the England captain needs to shake him from his torpor.

Over the next few days at Headingley, where the penultimate Test of the series begins this morning, we will find out if they are right. Certainly Hussain has no intention of hiding down the order as every pundit, housewife and taxi driver, has seemingly suggested.

"Number three is where I've got my best runs for England, and that's where I'll bat," came his defiant cry yesterday. "I've done it against every attack for the last four years and I think my record of four centuries and an average of 42 there speaks for itself.

"I'm going through a lean patch at the moment and that happens. It's not the best thing to happen when you are captain, it's not the best thing to happen at any stage. But the only person who can put that right is me, by going out and batting at three."

Hussain's plight has afflicted captains before, but with the series level and just two Tests left to play, it is a worrying one for England. Australia's captain, Mark Taylor, once went 21 Test innings without scoring a fifty. So far, Hussain has only gone nine innings without doing so, a run that was actually preceded by a period of plenty.

With an increase in the international schedule, Hussain is mentally jaded. He half admitted this himself yesterday, saying that although it was "a tiring job," it came with the territory. In any case, he added, "any tiredness would count for nothing over the final two Tests," as players threw their mental and physical energies into the matches.

One of the problems of being a relatively new captain is that you want to be involved all the time. When Hussain cracked his finger before the Lord's Test, he remained with the team for that match and the one-day tournament that followed. Although Team England has become a habit difficult to give up, Hussain now privately concedes he would probably have been better off getting away from cricket while his finger healed.

His team-mates at Essex believe there is nothing wrong with his technique, just that he is fatigued, which is why a working-over by the West Indies quicks may just be the best way to sharpen him up.

In the build-up to the match, he has been working with another Essex man, Graham Gooch. Hussain's first captain, for county as well as country, Gooch is tried and trusted. Perhaps even more importantly, he has gone through bad periods himself, most notably against Terry Alderman in 1989.

Apart from several hours practice in the nets, Gooch's advice to the England skipper has been to go out and play his shots. "I remember going through a bad trot and meeting Gary Sobers at a dinner," said Gooch yesterday. "He reckoned I'd stopped going for my strokes, so in the next match against Australia I did, making 65 and 133.

"I made the same point to Nasser, emphasising that survival alone, the most natural instinct when things aren't going your way, is usually not enough to break the sequence." Gooch is right, and for some, the feel of just one ball out of the bat's sweetspot is enough to make the world an altogether rosier place.

Over the years the Headingley pitch has not lent itself to convalescing batsmen, though Hussain scored a hundred and 94 here against Australia and South Africa in successive years.

Yesterday, he described the pitch as "ugly," a view that may soften with every run over twenty he gets. In fact, the surface is drier than the ones normally played on by Yorkshire, with cracks and patchy grass - a combination that, in any other part of the world, would suggest spin rather than an all-seam attack and seven batsmen.

In fact, England have tried the seven batsman ploy eight times in the last decade, winning three Tests and losing four. Should they go down that route again, and it is looking likely, Graeme Hick will be the last of the specialists, a place he has occupied on three previous occasions for England.

The West Indies may include a spinner, and Jimmy Adams was not ruling out playing the leggie Mahendra Nagamootoo. More likely, and providing one or both of Franklyn Rose and Reon King - sore ankle and back respectively - passes a fitness test, is that four seamers will take the field.

For Ambrose, who has said he will hang up his boots at the end of this series, just two wickets are needed to join the élite 400 club. Other members include Walsh, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Wasim Akram and it would be unthinkable that the beanpole Antiguan will not join them at some stage over the coming days.

Indeed, if Ambrose can make it to 410 wickets, West Indies will almost certainly win the match and in so doing preserve their 31-year record of not losing a Test series to England. Only then will his retirement feel natural and without regret.

HEADINGLEY TEST SQUADS

ENGLAND (from): N Hussain (Essex, capt), M A Atherton (Lancashire), M E Trescothick (Somerset), G P Thorpe (Surrey), A J Stewart (Surrey, wkt), M P Vaughan (Yorkshire), G A Hick (Worcestershire), C White (Yorkshire), D G Cork (Derbyshire), A R Caddick (Somerset), D Gough (Yorkshire), M J Hoggard (Yorkshire).

WEST INDIES (from): J C Adams (capt), S L Campbell, A F G Griffith, W W Hinds, B C Lara, C H Gayle, R R Sarwan, R D Jacobs (wkt), N A M McLean, F A Rose, C E L Ambrose, R D King, C A Walsh, C D Collymore.

Umpires: D B Cowie (NZ) and G Sharp (Eng).

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