Does England need a new No. 3?


EVERY team needs a captain with a mighty heart which is why the week after the final of the NatWest triangular series has been spent discussing whether a captain should wear such a heart on his sleeve. Nasser Hussain has always allowed his emotions to rule his team and long before the tri-series he was already sensitive to any suggestion that he should leave his preferred No.3 position in the batting order and, particularly, to bat lower in the order where he might guide the tail-enders to make a few extra, perhaps vital, runs.

Jon Agnew, the BBC's cricket correspondent, tells me that Hussain snapped when he asked the simplest of questions: "Where will you bat, Nasser?" Hussain claims a better scoring rate at No.3 justifies his decision but at Lord's in the NatWest final against India his long innings meant his side were perhaps 20 short. Even though they scored 325.

The Sky commentators Bob Willis and Ian Botham added their two penny worth, saying that a stroke-maker was needed at No. 3 and that Hussain's runs were way short of England's needs.

Finally, and crucially, Mike Atherton, Hussain's predecessor, weighed in with a shrewdly argued article in which he said that Hussain must change his place in the order for the sake of the team. When he heard Hussain was unhappy about this piece he rang him and found that what he had thought of as a reasonable piece had made his old team-mate extremely angry. None of us realised how much these blows had pained Hussain until he reached his century against India and made a series of furious gestures towards the media centre. Sadly, his innings - lasting 128 balls - had proved the point, and, as we all know, those magnificent young Indian batsmen collected the prize by shots played without restraint.

Hussain is far from a free-scorer but his captaincy, fired by his mighty heart - the description was first applied to President Harry Truman - is at the core of England's recent successes. There is no question of leaving him out of the side; rather a problem in finding the right place for him to bat. His own stubbornness has created the worry and now it may be impossible to find an answer and certainly not in time for England to win the World Cup.

Throughout the next few days the English newspapers were full of stories of the captain, damned by many but not censured by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and defended by both the Board's chief executive Tim Lamb and Alec Stewart, his senior player.

I would not have Hussain any other way. His high-profile aggression, his determination to defend his men at all times, his vibrant leadership have transformed England. If only he had a better all-rounder; although Andrew Flintoff may fill that role as he grows into a mature player. If only he had Andrew Caddick fit; but that will happen soon. If only he had another stroke-player; even though Michael Vaughan shows signs of developing into a classical one-day No. 4.

Seventy-two hours later, just as the furore began to die down, its flames were fanned once more by a frantic innings Hussain played for Essex during their defeat to Yorkshire in the quarter-finals of the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire tournament on his home ground at Chelmsford.

By the second over he was charging down the pitch to unsettle Matthew Hoggard and after scoring seven he top-edged a catch to deep square leg. Once again it seemed that Hussain was more intent on proving his critics wrong than on building an innings.

"Cricket is more about winning than proving points," grumbled another former team-mate from Hussain's Test side and that view reflected what most of his pals felt.

Here was a wonderful captain of England spoiling his performances to show up his critics. Let's hope it is a phase he is going through.

Hussain is too intelligent, too caring about his side, surrounded by too many men who will give him sound advice - from his father Joe to Duncan Fletcher, the England coach - so that he will tone down his reactions and perhaps have the good sense to move to another position in the order. He has now made that decision almost impossible although a captain with a mighty heart would simply move and ignore the feeding frenzy that follows.

At Chelmsford he was playing under the leadership of Ronnie Irani, another captain with scarlet blood flowing through his veins. Irani has come to the fore this summer by trusting his eagle eye and bowling intelligently and fielding as if his life were in peril. He has lifted Essex from the doldrums, brought spectators back into their grounds and removed the depression that resulted from their difficult financial position. His mighty heart beats so strongly you can feel its rhythm from the boundary edge, his enthusiasm turns the base metal of his talent into gold and his demands that his players give more than they thought possible make this ordinary side worth watching.

This fascinating quarter-final mirrored the tri-series final almost exactly. Essex had it won when Yorkshire lost five wickets for little more than half their score and then plucked victory from defeat when young Anthony McGrath and the tiny Gary Fellows put on 126.

There I caught up with Dermot Reeve, who 10 years ago began a rolling sequence of successes in one-dayers and championships for a Brian Lara-inspired Warwickshire, and who now offers oblique suggestions on the game to Channel 4.

Ask him the simplest question and you will drown in a torrent of words. I did and found that India's fielding is now World Cup-winning class, that new ball bowlers will produce yorkers in the first few overs of one-day games in future, that new plans for one-day cricket are just beginning. I did not need to ask a second question; indeed I dare not.

David Byas was the Yorkshire captain until last September when he stepped forward to receive their first county championship crown for 33 years. A month earlier he had been told the county wanted Darren Lehmann to be captain this year. Byas replied that he would happily play under Lehmann and was told there would not be a place for him.

Byas promptly retired, aged 39, and went back into the Wolds of Yorkshire to tend the family farm. A few weeks later Mike Watkinson of Lancashire rang to ask if he would come out of retirement and play for the old enemy.

Imagine the storm that caused in Yorkshire. It is akin to a man of Sparta joining the forces of Athens, a Southern Democrat moving to the Republican party, Denis Law scoring the goal for Manchester City that sent Manchester United, his much-loved former club, into the Second Division. With a back heel too.

Now Byas - Bingo to his intimates - plays for Lancashire happily. "Miss being captain," he admits. "Loved it. Liked the problems it brought, getting along with the others, helping the youngsters, deciding how we should win matches, setting the field . . . everything. Now I have to concentrate on making runs or I might lose my place. Different pressure."

He is a natural man, as all farmers must be, and when he speaks it is from the heart. "What's difficult about being a captain?" he asked thoughtfully. "Move mid-off a few yards, bring back the quick bowler, change the batting order. Nothing. In the real world there are leaders who commit men to battle, men whose decisions can ruin a big company, others whose responsibility is the health of a nation. It's done me good to think about all that."

What he does not realise is his continuing passion for Yorkshire.

"We'll have to play well to get out of trouble at the bottom of the table," he says. Note the "we." It still hurts that Yorkshire are having a terrible summer. When Lehmann was out he slammed his fist into his other hand and groaned, thinking the last chance had gone.

Sixteen years of commitment to their cause, six years as captain, a lifetime in the atmosphere in which Yorkshire and its changing fate were the only worthwhile subject of conversation even for a Wolds farmer, have left an indelible mark on another captain with a mighty heart.

It's the way it should be.