Hussain ready for the hard ball to begin

Stephen Brenkley hears England's captain issue stern declaration of intent
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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain issued a prospectus for his team yesterday. He delivered it clinically, with a measured, firm voice but the emotion he felt was betrayed by his blazing eyes. It was not a pretty message and nor was it meant to be.

Nasser Hussain issued a prospectus for his team yesterday. He delivered it clinically, with a measured, firm voice but the emotion he felt was betrayed by his blazing eyes. It was not a pretty message and nor was it meant to be.

If it said something about the way modern, big-time cricket is played it said much more about the passion of England's captain and his intention to create a side who know how to win. Hussain made no apologies. Quite the reverse. "Don't make out that we're just out on this tour as a peace mission," he said. "We're out here to win Test matches. We're not here just to be nice, because I will tell you that the Pakistan team will be straight at us on Wednesday morning. So we're going to play the game hard."

It is conceivable, despite his obvious desire, that England will have to play the game hard without their captain. His back is playing up and is at its worst for six months. They would miss him and not only for his powerful oratory.

Perhaps his declaration would have been less revealing had Andrew Caddick, one of the team's opening bowlers, avoided confrontation the previous evening with a batsman he thought he had out and then with the umpire who refused to give him out. Caddick swore at the batsman, of that there is no doubt. He also swore as he passed the umpire and said some unsavoury things about Pakistan, of which there is only doubt in the mouths of those who would rather not disclose.

But without it, Hussain would never have been so forceful, so rousing. He knew, because he said so repeatedly, this tour's delicate nature. Thirteen years have passed since England's last acrimonious trip across the country. This time it had to be different. "If that happened in any other country it wouldn't have made as many headlines," said Hussain, immediately grabbing a sense of perspective.

If he was not wholly candid about what Caddick might or might not have said to the umpire he was not perturbed. "It happens every day in international cricket virtually. It's happened nearly every day I've played against Australia and we keep it in the realms of what's right as cricketers but we also play the game hard. I'd expect that of the Pakistan team. I know in the First Test that whoever plays against us will be playing it very hard. There won't be any niceties in themiddle. It won't be 'good morning, Mr Hussain, welcome to Pakistan'." It won't now.

It was Hussain's team before, but this demonstrated how desperate he is for his charges to possess his spirit, his desire. He did not go so far, but he admired Caddick.

Hussain was always seen as captaincy material as a batsman who thought deeply about the game. But his volatile temperament and his mood swings told against him. He is still moody. You can see it in the hooded eyes, the sharp look. But if his mercurial temperament is about to undergo its greatest examination he appears to be well in control.

"There will be words exchanged and we will play it hard and I want my bowlers and my team to play it hard, otherwise we will be rolled over not only this winter but next summer against Australia. We realise where we are. But I'm not having us go out there and just because we're in Pakistan say 'well it doesn't matter', because it does matter, it's important."

Hard. It was the theme of his speech, for speech it was. His lads had got to know what fired them up. The whole problem with Caddick had been resolved, there had been incidents like it in the past, there would be more (probably on Wednesday). "I want my team out here to play hard, hard, hard." He was repeating himself but his passion did not dissipate. He knew what he wanted and so did his audience.

Whether this can compensate for England's shortcomings on alien pitches may be doubtful. Hussain must be aware that he, more than anybody, will be targeted. There are now three reasons: he is the captain and it is always best to eliminate the leader; he has been desperately out of form having scored, so far this year, 250 runs in 20 completed innings and having registered the first pair of his career in his last Test in August; and he shot off his mouth yesterday.

He can do nothing about being captain but may take heart from how he thrived on it last winter in South Africa. There are genuine signs that he is returning to form: he is no longer being squared up so willingly, the bat face is closing more readily and he is hitting it well. As for the mouth shooting off, well, the response could be fascinating. Expect Javed Miandad, Pakistan's coach, to reply verbally and for Wasim Akram to take Hussain at his word on Wednesday.

If Hussain's catalogue of hardness represented an intimidating strategy, it was also some rallying call. Of course, he was pretty inflamed before the one-day series last month, when he could have been Henry V at Agincourt. England then fired the first arrows before going all aquiver under a hail of Pakistani spin.

Hussain will not be short of ideas in this series and it will not be won (or, probably the best hope in England's case, drawn) by machismo alone. He has become shrewd; he got the captaincy at the age when his wilful youth was behind him (how Michael Atherton, who was never wilful but was youthful, might sometimes envy him that).

As captain, he is careful and inventive at planning fields, talks to his bowlers, understands them perhaps better than we know. He observed how well Caddick bowled after the outburst. Maybe he will not mind his best bowler having the occasional confrontation.

There is serious business ahead and the England captain is a serious man. He has not, however, forgotten that this is a game. One of the other things he knows is that Pakistan are waiting and all the hardness around might not assist. And the strategy? "Just to get as many runs against them as possible and don't get out,basically. Simple as that."

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