By Derek Pringle
They could be castaways from the band Bros, given the sharp haircuts and clean-cut looks, but the Curran brothers, Tom and Sam, could soon become the first pair of siblings to play in the same England team since Adam and Ben Hollioake 21 years ago.
Both are in England’s one-day squad against Australia and even if it does not happen in the current one-day series, their meteoric rise with Surrey suggests that it is only a matter of time before they are united in the same England team – one of the white-ball ones being favourite at this stage.
They have good cricketing genes, being the sons of the late Kevin Curran, a fine all-rounder who played for Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Natal and Zimbabwe.
I played against Kevin in county cricket many times and he was a combative pace bowler and hard-hitting batsman. The first time I encountered him, though, was on a schools tour of Zimbabwe, when he bowled leg-breaks for Mashonaland U-19s, a skill which neither stuck or had lasting appeal for him or his sons.
Having a different role within a cricket team can obviously help ease any brotherly competition, though the Currans plough pretty much the same furrow – seam-bowling all-rounders.
It is, of course, what their Dad did, though a third brother, Ben, does bat and bowl off-breaks.
Of the two with Surrey, Tom is tall and bowls right-arm while Sam is short and bowls left. Both bat pretty well, though those who foretell these things believe Sam will eventually become a top five batsman for England. For the moment, they offer variation on a theme but, essentially, they are competing for the same role within the team if not necessarily the same spot.
As is often the case with brothers, the elder one, Tom, has endured the tougher passage. Beset, initially, by back problems, he had something of an uncertain start to his cricket career. As the eldest of three, he was also forced to grow up quickly by the unexpected death of his father in Zimbabwe five and a half years ago, an experience that has ensured he takes nothing for granted.
It was a traumatic time especially when Robert Mugabe’s henchmen then seized the family farm. Suddenly, the family were without a home or a father. Through Allan Lamb, Kevin’s captain at Northants, a bursary was set up for the three brothers to go to Wellington College in Berkshire.
All excelled, especially at cricket, though one of the masters there believes that Tom, initially lower on confidence than his brothers, has grown the most in stature.
Tom has also begun to explore his own personality and become more secure about his talent, a development the master attributes to Surrey and in particular the management skills of Alec Stewart, the county’s director of cricket.
Stewart, who played 133 Tests and 170 ODIs for England, is in the unique position of knowing four sets of brothers who played at Surrey – the Bedsers, the Bicknells, the Hollioakes and now the Currans, of whom he is very proud.
“Tom is very hard-working and is very much a player in the image of his Dad, being a fierce competitor in everything he does on a cricket field,” said Stewart.
“Sam also has that competitive streak but is a little bit more laid back in his approach. He does pick things up incredibly quickly though, and has that knack, that extra sense, of when to do something during play.”
But are brothers, or sisters, in the same team a good thing? You could argue that it brings an added and unnecessary rivalry to the table, one that could distract from the main purpose of beating the opposition.
“Tom and Sam do compete with one another but they also look out for one another, too,” said Stewart. “It was exactly the same as the Hollioakes when they played at Surrey. There was a rivalry there but also a harmony.
“Mind you, none were as harmonious as the Bedsers who dressed so identically that even most who knew them well couldn’t immediately tell them apart.”
Not that sibling tension need always be a bad thing. Indeed, it might even inspire, as it did, initially, for Mark Waugh in his quest to prove himself worthy of being in the same Australian team as twin brother, Steve.
Mark Waugh, nicknamed junior and Afghan (the forgotten war), had initially been the more rated of the two at junior levels. But Steve’s steely determination saw him flourish sooner in big boys’ cricket, leaving many thinking what might have been for Mark had he only been more like his brother. That he eventually overcame that prejudice to score a hundred on Test debut having, initially, replaced Steve in the side, went a long way towards ensuring a long and prosperous career.
If there was sibling rivalry between them, and on some subliminal level you feel there must have been, they were subsumed by the excitement and challenges of playing for Australia when they were the best team in the world. Indeed, the Waugh twins played 108 Tests and 214 one-day internationals jointly, which meant they spent young adulthood together as well as childhood. Contrast that with the single Test and seven ODIs the Hollioake brothers spent in the same international team and you realise that brotherly collaboration is not necessarily guaranteed a long association.
Mark and Steve Waugh were very different characters who didn’t appear to compete or even worry about one another that much. Not so Adam and Ben Hollioake, whose relationship was so close and combative they would even have p***ing contests against one other.
So far the Curran brothers have rubbed along well together in top-level cricket to the point where both have represented England though not at the same time. That day, though, cannot be far off, bringing, as it will, a fitting tribute to a kinship forged in both tragedy and success.