Saturday, January 20, 2007

Those Were the Days

Believe it or not, there was a time when England had a decent ODI side, and actually used to win tournaments and stuff...

So, how the hell did that happen?

Well, in a shockingly bold move, the England selectors had taken the unprecdented (for them) step of having different captains for the two different forms of the game and the decision to choose Adam Hollioake to skipper the ODI side was extraordinarily radical for a body that up until then had probably thought that the concept of sugar in a cup of tea was rather 'racy'...

Hollioake had a reputation for being outspoken, opinionated and very aggressive out on the pitch - to the point where he'd almost come to blows with members of opposition counties visiting The Oval on more than one occasion. This might have had something to do with the fact that he was born in a land far far away known as 'Australia' where traits such as plain-speaking and a strong desire to win are the general norm... There was no denying, however, that he was an inspirational captain.

The team Hollioake had at his disposal was a wonderful example of a balanced ODI side, containing all the important ingredients for success: -

- A core of experienced one-day batsmen - Stewart, Nick Knight, Hick and Thorpe (how England miss him now). The first three were multi-dimensional, capable of blazing hitting as well as run accumulation, whilst Thorpe was second only to Michael Bevan in terms of working the ball around and chasing down a target.
- A genuine 'pinch hitter' in Ally Brown, and an equally dangerous pure hitter in Matthew Fleming.
- Wicket taking opening bowlers like Dean Headley. (Quick digression here - does anyone else share my view that his premature retirement through injury in 2001 has been hugely underrated?)
- A further core of experienced one-day bowlers, all of whom could score useful runs - Mark Ealham (probably the best one day bowler England have had since Underwood?) Hollioake himself who was a master of the 'six different balls in the over' routine Robert Croft, Dougie Brown, and Fleming.

The presence of ex-Army officer Fleming in the side also added another dimension, in that it prevented opponents sledging getting too out of hand - after all, you aren't going to start abusing someone who has a capability to blow your car up, or enter your room at the dead of night and slit your throat without making a sound are you?!

At the end of that tournament, there were many of us who saw a new dawn of English one-day cricket emerging but within less than nine months the experiment had been abandoned and the slide downhill was so quick that it culminated in the monumental cock up of the 1999 World Cup, from which you could argue, England haven't properly recovered.

If you're after a scapegoat for the downturn, look no further than Alec Stewart. After Mike Atherton quit as England test skipper after the 1998 tour to West Indies, Stewart took over the reins and promptly announced that he wanted to captain England in both forms of the game. Stewart was a wonderful batsman on his day, an excellent keeper, but lacked the cricketing imagination to be a good captain of the one day side.

Had the selectors not used up all their supply of cojones in the original choice of Hollioake, the logical move would have surely been to tell Stewart to stop acting the Prima-Donna, and to give Hollioake a contract to lead the ODI side up to and including the World Cup. A Hollioake side would surely have not succumbed as lamely as the England side ultimately did against South Africa and India in that tournament.

Postscript - Also in that England squad in Sharjah, although not in the side for the final was one B.Hollioake. It's an awful shock to realise that he would have turned just 29 during the Brisbane Test just gone. You can stop and think wistfully about a current England ODI middle order of Pietersen, Hollioake (B) and Flintoff very easy - at least until the room starts getting very 'dusty' and you can't focus on the computer screen anymore.


Blue and Brown said...

Some of the players had more than six caps too.

How do England pick so many players, yet have so few with international experience. They really do spread those caps around.

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece mate.

Our core of adaptable, experienced players now should be Pietersen, and three of of Vaughan, Strauss, Bell and Collingwood.

Our pinch-hitter should be Mal Loye; our 'pure hitter' Andrew Flintoff.

James Anderson and perhaps Jon Lewis are wicket-taking opening bowlers.

Flintoff, Panesar and Dalrymple should certainly be greater than Ealham,Hollioake, Brown and Croft.

That side was a pretty good one, but they were also mauled 4-1 in the West Indies. But Hollioake should have remained skipper; with Gough in for Brown, that side would have had a good chance of doing very well in the World Cup.

(PS - returned the link)