Nasser Hussain is a fascinating paradox. He is unquestionably the best captain that England has had since Mike Brearley was in charge, yet he seems to be wrapped around by the besetting sin of the modern age: insecurity. Why else would he thump the tub so about his insistence on staying at No 3 in the one-day side when he is not suited for it?
Why, when he reached his first one-day hundred for England on Saturday, did he react by making gestures to the press box which were both insulting and childish? This was not the reaction of a man who is at ease with himself.
Why, relatively early in his reign as captain, did he set himself the time limit of the World Cup in South Africa next February and March? By the end of that competition he will only just be touching 35 and it is not as though an obvious successor is treading on his tail.
When Hussain first thought to himself that the end of the next World Cup gives him an easy cue to go, it may have had much to do with his own batting failures, which inevitably bring insecurity. He was not the first captain to find runs hard to come by and although it did not affect his captaincy it made the side more vulnerable.
Hussain does not find failure easy to deal with. Who does? He went through agonies for a long time before his patience and determination were rewarded with that 109 at Kandy in the second Test in 2000-01. It was an innings of great character against, among other things, 63 overs of Muttiah Muralitharan, but Hussain is a capable player of spin.
From then on, Hussain's form with the bat has kept the Doubting Thomases at bay. For Hussain himself, his skills as a captain were not enough for his self-respect. Here, he is not as strong as Brearley who, although he knew he was hardly picked on merit as a batsman, never allowed a shortage of runs to rattle him.
If the runs had not eventually come in satisfactory quantity, it will have suited Hussain to have prepared an escape route for himself. Now he is most unlikely to need it and Duncan Fletcher, his friend and adviser, has publicly pleaded with him, and quite rightly so, to shelve all thoughts of retirement after South Africa.
England are slowly but surely climbing up the ladder of international prosperity and there are a good number of exciting young players around. The one thing they are going to need as they make that last long and agonising step up to Test cricket, is the cool guiding hand of Hussain. He will give them much needed stability on the field and in the dressing-room, but he must not compromise himself with self-doubts.
No one will be more aware than Hussain himself that he is the wrong man to be coming in at No 3 for England in their limited-over matches. His hundred yesterday at Lord's may have given him immense satisfaction, but he needed plenty of luck and it did little to support his continuing claims to the No 3 spot. Ideally, one wants a batsman in that crucial position who is able to pick up a run a ball. This has never been Hussain's strength. Graham Thorpe was the obvious man until his abdication and so in time it will probably devolve on to Mark Butcher or Michael Vaughan.
As it is, when criticised about this, Hussain reacts as if his very virility had been called into question, which is silly especially when one considers what a clear and concise cricket brain he has. He must either open in place of Nick Knight – he has been successful going in first for Essex in one-day cricket – or he must bite his tongue and go down to six or seven.
It would be for the good of the team and it would be absurd for him to consider dropping himself down the order as a climbdown. He must work hard to make that outer shell more impervious to sudden changes of temperature. A chat with Brearley might help him to sort out the wood from the trees.
Hussain has been compared to Douglas Jardine of "Bodyline" notoriety, which will not have displeased him. Jardine was perhaps even more ruthless and implacable. That brilliant writer, "Crusoe" Robertson-Glasgow, a close friend, wrote of him: "None knew more exactly what he meant to do nor could express his thoughts more pointedly if some plan misfired... his cursing, at its best, was Elizabethan in its scope and variety. His wit could be both deep and broad". After a slow innings against Australia he apologised for playing "like an old spinster defending her honour".
Maybe it would round Hussain off if he were able to chuckle a little more. Now he knows we want him to stay, perhaps it will give him the confidence to do so. As it is, those stupid gestures to the press box at Lord's have left him with an uncomfortable amount of ground to make up.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies