Old flame returns to guide England’s hungry pride

(Photo: Getty Images)

On Lions duty at Worcester, Peter Hayter stumbles across a former star looking to give something back to the game…

From the back, the strongly-built bloke in the England training uniform and navy blue ECB beanie could pass for another from the ranks of coaches, physios, psychologists and support team with which they ensure the England Lions receive the best and most thorough preparation.

After all, as he floats from player to player at New Road, Worcester, prior to the start of the rainy opening day of their match against South Africa, he is wearing the same gear as Andy Flower (head coach), Graham Thorpe (batting), Kevin Shine (fast bowling) Peter Such and Saqlain Mushtaq (spin), Bruce French (wicket-keeping), Chris Taylor (fielding), Ben Langley (rub) and Chris Marshall (psychologist).

Which is why it comes as some surprise when this figure reveals himself to be the never-knowingly uniform Adam Hollioake. The former England one-day skipper, turned property developer turned cage fighter, is about as far from anyone’s idea of the often-maligned caricature of the laptop one-percenter as it is possible to be, especially his own.

This apparent contradiction is not lost on the man himself, one suspects, but his presence here is no mistake, nor the result of a wrongly addressed invitation from Lord’s.

Not only has he been asked to pass on his experiences to the Lions here and, previously, in their match against South Africa A in Canterbury last week, he was also to be seen working with the senior T20 Squad during the recently completed 2-1 victory over AB de Villiers’ side.

And he was thrilled, prior to the first match at the Ageas Bowl, to be nominated to hand young leg-spinner Mason Crane his international cap which, unusually, the 20-year-old Hampshire starlet received before being awarded, yesterday morning, with his Lions cap.

For, within the England hierarchy there are those who understand that as well as the benefit of sophisticated modern coaching methods, nutritionists, bat-speed monitors, ‘Catapult’ GPS tracking vests which monitor distance covered, heart rates and prepare playlists for the car journey home, the sharp instincts of the street-scrapper might also come in handy.

Hollioake stresses his involvement is on an ad-hoc basis. England underline he is doing so, “working with the existing coaching team”. But those who have admired the way he played the game, leading Surrey to three County Championships with courage, positive imagination and quirky belligerence, his impact when leading England’s

ODI team to victory in the Sharjah Champions Trophy in 1997 and how he has faced adversity since then, believe nothing but good can come from it for as long as it lasts.

They well recall the blistering form the all-rounder produced as he tried to fight through the grief that enveloped him after his younger sibling, Ben, had perished in a car wreck in Perth, and which many thought should have earned him a recall to the ODI team for the 2003 World Cup – and the words with which he sought to explain it.

“There is no-one as dangerous as a man who has nothing to lose” he said.

Unfortunately for Hollioake and for England, knocked out at the group stage, their skipper Nasser Hussain was not persuaded by the argument.

There will be those who remain equally sceptical about the value and relevance of Hollioake’s input now.

After all, he played his last Test match in 1998, his last professional cricket engagement was a T20 for Essex against Middlesex ten years ago next week, and his most recent sporting debut was Down Under on a ‘Days of Glory’ Mixed Martial Arts bill five years ago.

Yet, there he was seated on the floor of the Lions dressing room as the rain fell yesterday holding court to a group of players of whom only Liam Plunkett might actually have seen him in action, and whose attention never wavered.

“I remember when I first played with Martin Bicknell at Surrey,” he says. “He was never comfortable about bowling his inswinger, only wanted to swing the ball away.

“He claimed he wasn’t confident with it and so it was not worth bothering with. When I got him to try it and the ball was hit for four he would give me a look as if to say, ‘I told you so’.

“But I persuaded him to keep working on it because, if nothing else, the threat of having it in his armoury would be in the batsman’s mind and the work eventually paid off.

“Talking with Mason Crane, what I’m struck by is his willingness to listen, the fact that he knows he has so much to learn and is prepared to do it.

“It’s the same with all the guys I have been working with. I love the way that they don’t think they know it all.”

Science is all very well, instincts honed by and knowledge gained through experience is another thing entirely and however long Hollioake is with them, England could do far worse than tap into his.

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