The day that hope shone brightly through the hype

Today we replay the afternoon at Trent Bridge in 1997 when Ben Hollioake became a Test batsman
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The Independent Online

A few seconds before 12.35pm yesterday, Ben Hollioake flicked his wrists and caressed his seventh ball in Test cricket wide of mid-wicket. He was 19 years and 271 days old, give or take a few hours, and thus became the second youngest player to score a run for England. It was like seeing the future and realising that it worked.

There is a tortuous, fretful journey ahead for Hollioake. He is not only ridiculously young to be playing at this level, but he is also still an apprentice. Only 12 first-class games for Surrey before this, 428 runs, a highest score of 72 and an average of 28.53 were all figures which spoke of potential but barely whispered achievement. But from the moment he came in to the arena to replace his elder brother, Adam, also a debutant at Trent Bridge, it was clear that here might, just might, be something special.

The siblings, much hyped and frequently billed as a pair, did not look at each other as they crossed on the pavilion steps. Adam was no doubt irked that he had departed driving loosely at a wide one, albeit to a brilliant slip catch, only two balls after hoisting a cavalier six. Ben stared rigidly ahead and neither rushed nor dawdled on his walk to the crease.

He played his first six balls over 14 minutes with model patience. His opening boundary off Paul Reiffel was delightful and two deliveries later he added another when he swivelled quickly and adroitly pulled a short ball to square leg. When he played that shot it was impossible not to draw comparisons with David Gower as he faced his first ball in Test cricket 19 years ago, six months and five days, give or take a few hours, before Ben was born.

But the young man does not need or deserve comparisons. His every movement on the grand stage, as he exhibited in his one-day international debut and in the Benson & Hedges Cup final have demonstrated that he is his own man. The selectors took an outrageous punt when they picked him, but maybe it was the correct one.

In the remaining match of this lost series, against West Indies in the winter and South Africa next summer, they now have little option but to keep faith as he learns his trade in the hardest academy of all.

It has been said that it is silly to expect a saviour so young, let alone one batting at No 7, but it should not be forgotten that Ian Botham (debut 20 years ago on this very ground) played some of his greatest innings in that position, if the comparison can be forgiven.

Hollioake was in his pomp briefly after lunch, fearless and attacking as England were losing and you could imagine bars emptying for him in years to come. All this needs harnessing, opine some judges, to make him a more complete batsman, but not, surely, if harnessing means shackling.

Brian Close, as was much stated last week, remains the youngest man to play for England, but he was older than Hollioake when he got his first run 18 months later. England's youngest run scorer remains the great Denis Compton (19 years 83 days) who is also still their youngest centurion at 20 years 19 days. To beat that record, Hollioake must reach three figures either at Trent Bridge or The Oval in two weeks.

His unfettered first innings ended rather tamely when he fended off the back foot to slip. He had 28. It was important to note that it exactly matched his career average.

This report from the third day of the Fifth Test against Australia appeared in the Indpendent on Sunday on 10 August, 1997

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