The player who shows most independence, who rails at those in authority, is the one most likely to be leadership material

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CORRECTION. This column, in common with others, may occasionally have given the impression that the England cricket selectors were not outstandingly good at their job. It may even have suggested that the chairman of said selectors, Mr Raymond Illingworth, was somewhat out of touch and lacking in man-management skills. There is, as we now see, not the slightest truth in these allegations, which we unreservedly withdraw.

Credit where it's due. England were very good at Edgbaston, and the selectors played a blinder. Having got almost everything right in the one-day internationals, they could have done the obvious thing and stuck with the same players. Instead they dispensed with more than half the squad: not just Neil Smith and Mark Ealham, but Ally Brown, Matthew Maynard, Alec Stewart and Darren Gough, and used the vacancies to open the pipeline from the A team. There were promotions for Ronnie Irani and Min Patel, and recalls for Nick Knight and, above all, last winter's England A captain Nasser Hussain.

Hussain could easily have been ignored on the grounds that he did not have enough runs this season: 351 at an average of 32 when the squad was picked. Once in the squad he could easily have been the batsman to miss out, since John Crawley was the resident No3 when he was injured in Durban last December. It cannott have been much fun for Mike Atherton and David Lloyd to tell their mate Crawley that he had again been unlucky. They took the unusual step of informing Hussain last Tuesday that he would bat at three, whatever the other permutations.

They also told the press, most of whom then made Hussain their story on Wednesday morning. This could have backfired, and perhaps it did briefly - it's hard to find another reason why this excellent fielder's first contribution to the match should have been to drop a sitter at cover.

But the benefits outweighed the dangers. What the management were saying, loud and clear, was the thing all managements, in sport or outside, ought to say more often than they do: we believe in you. Atherton had made the same point another way two weeks earlier, ringing Hussain to tell him that although he was not in the one-day squad, he was in the selectors' thoughts. By such little bits of consideration are careers revived.

On this Edgbaston pitch no batsman could survive for long without luck, unless his name was Sachin. But you have to make use of your good fortune and Hussain added another hundred runs after getting that generous reprieve from umpire Hair. (Friday was a bad Hair day; Saturday was an even worse one.) Exactly half of Hussain's 128 were made in company with the debutant tailenders, Patel and Mullally. He had said that he was looking forward to batting higher than No6 for the first time; the way things turned out, there wasn't a lot of difference.

Marshalling the tail requires leadership as well as skill. It was clever of the selectors to pick Hussain for this Test, but it was even more so to make him captain of the A team last September. This appears to have been a late decision: Alan Wells revealed this weekend that he had a call from Illingworth checking whether, if he didn't make the senior party, he would be happy to resume at the helm of the junior one. But it had been noted that Hussain made a fine start as vice-captain of Essex, and the selectors overlooked the fact that his career was littered with bust- ups and tantrums.

This was a real step forward. If there's one thing cricket administrators hate, it's temperamental young players. Mark Ramprakash, Hussain's friend and fellow firecracker, was unofficially suspended by England for a year after some little local difficulties at Middlesex. Hussain showed dissent in both his first two innings for England, in St Kitts in 1990, and was given a fearsome dressing-down by Graham Gooch. This may have had something to do with the fact that Gooch's successor as captain of Essex was Paul Prichard.

On tour with England A, Hussain received nothing but praise. "He was immensely mature in his leadership," said tour manager Mike Vockins - the Rev Mike Vockins, that is. Team manager John Emburey went further: "If Mike Atherton was to get ill or injured, Hussain could be a very good replacement." This was said in December, and seemed far-fetched. Now, when the only other possible captain in the team is Jack Russell, it looks eminently sensible.

Another remark of Vockins's caught the eye. "I knew of his reputation," he recalled. "He was said to have been volatile, mercurial, temperamental - all the things one might worry about in a captain." This is the orthodox thinking. And it is wrong.

Hussain is not the only example in cricket of a rebel turned leader. Ray Illingworth himself was a pretty obstreperous England captain, while Atherton looked like a model citizen, captain of Cambridge and all that, but soon turned out to have a streak of cussedness. Football has thrown up more examples, from Graeme Souness to Dennis Wise. You might call it Cantona's Law: the player who shows most independence, who rails at the often petty manoeuvrings of those in authority over him, is the one most likely to be leadership material.

Assuming that Hussain has now made the Test grade, the selectors will have to look elsewhere for the next A team captain. It should be a close- run thing between Ramprakash and Phil Tufnell.

Comments