Polishing of Hollioake

Stephen Brenkley talks to the England A captain, transformed from liability to leader
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The Independent Online
As a tempestuous teenage fast bowler Adam Hollioake was once banned for three matches. He might as well have packed his cricket bag with a supply of red mist instead of a bat, so often did the former appear before his eyes and so infrequently did he require the latter.

"I was always abusing people," he said. "I would just get so competitive out there on the pitch. There were quite a few complaints and after I threw a ball at someone I was suspended. It wasn't a planned thing. I would just do things like that."

Fortunately, Hollioake stopped doing things like that. He is no longer tempestuous, his aggression is controlled and he has long-since ceased to be solely a fast bowler. The change in his approach has been so enornmous that this week he will go to Australia as captain of the England A side.

When the appointment was announced last month it was mildly surprising, but did not bring forth a single dissenting voice. Since Hollioake, 25 three weeks ago, began to lead Surrey in 1995 when Alec Stewart was absent on Test duty, he has been both an inspiration and an example. His own form as a batsman appears to have burgeoned with responsibility and he finished the recent season with 1,508 runs at almost 70 per innings, the leading Englishman in the averages.

It was easy to gather testimonials to his potential prowess as a leader and should he meet the expectations of those who know him best, the Aussies may begin to realise that Pom is not a synonym for pushover. David Gilbert, the Australian who took over as Surrey coach last season, was hardly guarded in his assessment. "He's a born leader," he said. "It's a terrific selection not just for Adam but English cricket. He's getting better all the time and he listens. He doesn't have insecurities and while the England batting line-up looks impressive at the moment, Adam could easily fit in at No 6."

Hollioake himself was rather less extravagant, but there was no doubting his assurance as he prepared for the tour. He was swift to confess his youthful impropriety and was charmingly unruffled in recalling it. He has not, of course, become a soft touch.

His weight of runs may demonstrate that he can lead by example but the opposition are still continually made aware of his presence in other ways. He likes to engage in discussion with them, trying to unsettle the mind, where so much of top cricket is played. "I don't swear or anything like that and I certainly wouldn't argue with the umpire," he said. "But I may smile at a batsman and have a little word about his technique. It doesn't always work - I tried it with Peter Bowler earlier in the summer and he made a double hundred for Somerset."

While he may seek to instil doubts into rivals with a few apposite words, Hollioake thrives on badinage in the middle. Engaging fielders in conversation, he relishes being insulted in return because it aids his concentration. A measure of his tough, controlled approach is that the current player he admires most is Steve Waugh.

Having been born in Australia, Hollioake is expecting a tough ride in the coming weeks. "Nothing they say there can shock me," he said. His mentor, Peter Carlstein, the former South African Test batsman, who took Hollioake under his wing one winter in Perth, Western Australia five years ago, is equally certain. "He has everything it takes. Nothing will disturb him."

Nothing, perhaps, except being questioned by an Englishman about his Englishness. He learned his cricket here, he said, and England should be proud they taught him. Going back to Melbourne, where he was born, meant no more to him than going to Karachi.

Hollioake has never sought captaincy and was astonished when Surrey asked him to become Stewart's deputy. He insisted he would lose no sleep whatever over not being captain. Still, he is clear on his duties.

"I must earn repect every single day. All I ask of players is 100 per cent effort all the time and that they stick together. I like being captain, sure. I've always been interested in people and what works for them and what doesn't and I'll always back my players."

Hollioake has been a member of the Surrey side from the moment he was called up as a bowler in an injury crisis in 1993. He made a century on debut, since when his batting has progressed and his bowling has not. He plays enviably straight while still playing attacking strokes.

As a medium pacer he broke the Sunday League record haul in 1996 but his 12 Championship wickets cost as much as his batting average. "I've spent the last month working out how I can get more wickets," he said. Whatever he decides on, he won't be employing red mist.

Squad: A J Hollioake (Surrey, capt, 0 Tests), J E R Gallian (Lancs, 2), M A Butcher (Surrey, 0), M P Vaughan (Yorks, 0), A McGrath (Yorks, 0), O A Shah (Middx, 0), C White (Yorks, 6), M A Ealham (Kent, 2), W K Hegg (Lancs, 0), D W Headley (Kent, 0), G Chapple (Lancs, 0), A J Harris (Derbys, 0), A F Giles (Warwicks, 0), P M Such (Essex, 8). Manager: D A Graveney. Coach: M W Gatting

Itinerary: October: 31-3 Nov v New South Wales 2nd XI (Tamworth). November: 6 v South Australia (Adelaide), 8-11 v South Australia (Adelaide), 15- 18 v Australian Cricket Academy (Mount Gambier), 21-24 v Victoria (Melbourne), 28 v Australia Capital Territory (Canberra), 30-3 Dec v ACT (Canberra), December: 5 v New South Wales (Sydney), 7 v New South Wales (Woolongong), 10-13 v Queensland (Brisbane).