Adam Hollioake is a remarkable man


Adam Hollioake is — 70 years on — the new Percy Fender. Both have been charismatic, successful and talented Surrey captains and both, through no fault of their own, have been overlooked when an England leader was put in place.

There the comparison ends physically, although they both thought in a way which shocked the conservatives of their times.

Hollioake is short and broad and dynamic and, such is his love of boxing, I sometimes suspect he would rather be heavyweight champion of the world than anything else.

Fender was so tall and thin that cartoonists loved him as they picked out his sweater and his arms both reached almost to his knees — but as a gentleman of the early 20th century his idea of fun was on the hunting field rather than the boxing ring.

Hollioake is a man of his age, without prejudice, at home among working class lads and public school boys, media men, fans and strangers. He introduced aggression into Surrey's game plan; they did not speak to their opponents except to invite the batsmen to leave the field quickly. These tactics met with strong resistance in traditional county cricket.

Fender was an advanced thinker who led out amateurs and professionals through the same gate; a sin worse than treason in the eyes of the most powerful man at MCC. Lord Harris snapped: "We don't want that sort of thing at Lord's, Fender. If amateurs and professionals mixed so readily, could anarchy be far behind."

What a different game cricket might have been if these two free minds had been given the captaincy of England.

In the past two years we have seen a new side of Hollioake who is now leading a large band of companions on a march that has already seen them cross Britain, sail over the Channel to Europe and cycle down into southern Spain; all in the name of charity.

He is a remarkable man and just the sort England need in this time when there are signs that they may shortly put one over on the Australians. He would enjoy that since his life began Down Under although he has spent most of his days in England, and completed his education at one of its most famous sporting public schools.

Eight years ago it looked as if he might have a fine Test career but in batting and bowling not in fielding nor cricket knowledge nor intelligence he was not of the standard required. He averaged just 10.00 in four Tests and with Craig White filling the all-rounder role and Andrew Flintoff waiting in the sidelines there was no room for this assertive cricketer.

Instead Hollioake led the one-day side to unexpected glory in Bangladesh and then played second fiddle to Mike Atherton in West Indies.

His brother Ben began to be spoken of as the more likely high-flier and Adam went back to the winning of championships for Surrey; three years out of the last four for instance.

In the middle of all that came a tragedy that stopped him in his tracks. Ben was driving a high-powered car near their home in Western Australia, something went wrong and Ben, aged 25, was killed. Adam dropped out of the early Surrey matches the following summer until his head was strong enough to allow him back on to the public stage.

He returned like those fighter pilots who survived the war thinking that nothing mattered any more, that any risk was worth taking but that he should also build a memorial to Ben.

So he and his family put together the Ben Hollioake Memorial Fund which raises money for kids who will not live as long as Ben. It goes towards hospices that make the last days of these poor souls easier. Like Ian Botham, who has devoted more of his days than you will believe towards helping youngsters with leukaemia, Adam has found the right home for his efforts.

No doubt Adam thinks that Ben's hand is guiding him every step of the way and only wishes that the two of them were still together at the head of their motley column.

It is just such a man that England need now. A cricketer who is driven, who is successful and who can contribute in character what he lacks with bat and ball. You will remember that Mike Brearley made such a difference. I promise you Hollioake who gets a benefit next year and retires at the end of next summer might have been such a leader.

By the way, please do not read this praise of Adam Hollioake as a hint to the selectors that Michael Vaughan is the wrong man to captain England. Vaughan is a great batsman who will, I trust, make England into a fine side if he gets the breaks. He has demolished Bangladesh and won three Tests in succession. You cannot ask much more.

Still, in this moment of transition, as England strive to win back the Ashes, the only worthwhile target in their sights, they would be better off with the little scrapper leading the side while Vaughan accumulates thousands of runs.

That is why Hollioake's great hike across Western Europe and the western desert of North Africa is so important. It will cover 2,000 miles from Edinburgh in Scotland to Tangiers by foot, on bikes and by yacht. His regular companions will be Matthew Church, who once played for Kent, the European heavyweight champion Scott Welch and Lancashire's batsman Iain Sutcliffe.

It was due to end on November 25 and I am sure everyone hopes that when these travellers finally put up their feet they will have given their charity a pocket full of money and be able to recall plenty of adventures along the way.

Fender was one of those cricketers who found controversy wherever he played and this is probably the reason why, although he was generally regarded as the best captain of his generation, he was never asked to lead England. Cricket and the unorthodox have never been happy bedfellows.

Fender, born in 1892, played for Surrey from 1914 to 1936, led the county from 1921 to 1931 and played in 13 Tests in which he made 380 runs at 19, took 29 wickets at 40.68 and held 14 catches. Like Hollioake, just a touch short of Test class you might think.

Yet his first class figures 19,034 runs at 26.65, 21 centuries, 1,894 wickets at 25.05 and 558 catches suggest he had all the attributes that ought to have made a fine England captain and in the early 1920s this idea was rampant. Unhappily, Fender had a number of problems which led to him being overlooked.

He gave the ball a tremendous clout, and bowled leg breaks and googlies with all the eccentricity that is the characteristic of the breed. He used those long arms to snatch catches in the slips. Such batting and bowling breeds more failures than orthodoxy and he gained a reputation for being unreliable.

His captaincy is sometimes described as nearer to gamesmanship than the authorities liked even in the days when Bev Lyons of Gloucestershire and Brian Sellers of Yorkshire were apt to stretch the Laws to their limit but his friends claimed he never stepped outside the spirit of cricket.

Fender also had difficulty keeping his mouth shut and a famous row with Lord Harris, who believed that his version of how cricket should be played was the only one worth listening to, probably sealed the doubts the men in the corridors of power had about him.

It concerned whether the pitches at the start of the 1924 tour by the South Africans should be covered. Fender agreed to covering so that the tour side might get some practice. Lord Harris, in his seventies but still the most powerful man in the game, was annoyed when Fender pointed out he had condoned the practice at a festival game and Fender's Test career was finished.

Remember these were the days in which the president of MCC was stopped by King George V at the presentation of the teams during the Lord's Test because he was not wearing morning dress. The King glanced at the president's perfectly-cut grey silk suit and asked: "What's happening, man. You look as if you've been ratting."

You think such a moment could not be repeated in 2003. Don't you believe it. We may be in sight of wonderful medical breakthroughs, within a century of settling men on outer planets and making famine a dread of the past. But it is still possible for a man of steel to be overlooked by national selectors because he does not quite fit the image.