The man is more important

Published : May 17, 2003 00:00 IST

I HAVE a friend who says that it is not the cricketer who should be chosen for England but the man.

Ted Corbett

I HAVE a friend who says that it is not the cricketer who should be chosen for England but the man.

So, let us consider what happened at the launch of the 140th, picture-on-the-dust-cover, much-changed inside, Wisden Almanack recently.

Of the five cricketers of the year, only one put in an appearance. Adam Hollioake made history of a sort by arriving with his wife Sherryn and daughter Bennaya. He had a drink with a few friends, listened intently to the speeches, walked forward and received his special, leather-bound copy and replied with a few words of his own.

He did not mention the death of his brother, except to say that he had received a lot of support in a difficult year from his immediate family and he thanked friends within the game for so many good wishes. It was the nicely judged speech you might have expected from an England captain. I am sure that Joe Hussain, who went along to collect his son Nasser's award, will have told the family that when he returned home.

Of course, by the time you read this tribute to a go-getting young man of the type who would probably have flown a Spitfire in World War II, he will be heading Surrey's bid for their fourth championship success in five years under his leadership. On his early season form he might even get a place in the one-day internationals.

Michael Vaughan will be the England one-day captain. As you know Vaughan was by far the most successful batsman of the year measured by either runs and style. We all guess he will score heavily again this year and go on to rival Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh as the most consistent harvester of runs at the start of the 21st century.

He has always led teams and it should be an easy transition from leading batsman to one-day captain and, when Hussain achieves his ambition to be the most successful Test captain, to don that mantle as well.

But, as my friend points out, there is more to playing cricket for your country than holding your bat properly and getting your feet in the right position. I feel that Hussain should have been at that little ceremony and I am certain that Vaughan should have gone too.

Hussain was playing at Leicester the next day and could have easily gone from his home in Essex by way of the venue in central London; it's not quite two hours in my steady old car and rather less given that Hussain drives a racy vehicle with an engine that might easily power a moon rocket.

Vaughan too ought to have made the effort. His journey was from Sheffield, by way of the M1, round London to Southampton for the game against Hampshire. If he had told the Wisden people he wanted to be away early they would have moved heaven and earth to ensure he was in bed in the Yorkshire hotel well before his own strict curfew.

They both chose to stay away and we must be understanding and say that they have both probably had a bellyful of awards and congratulations and funny remarks about Ashes embers and kangaroos since they got back from Australia. Talk about the rights and wrongs of the Zimbabwe situation probably bores them senseless.

They would also know that 75 per cent of the gathering would comprise cricket writers, gossip reporters and our kin; and that every second question would be about the one-day captaincy and prospects for the coming summer.

Hollioake might have ducked too. He must have known that someone would say a word or two about the death of his brother Ben, much loved by him and affectionately remembered by everyone in that room. If he had been a less courageous man he might have preferred to stay home with his wife and daughter and get Wisden to send the leather-covered volume along to the Oval the next morning by leather-coated motor cycle messenger.

Someone did mention Ben. "Nice speech, Adam. I remember your brother making a speech just as neat when he received the Young Cricketer of the Year award."

Hollioake broke into a wide grin. "Thank you. That's good to hear."

"You didn't mind me mentioning Ben"

"No, of course not. Thank you." And he and I and the boxing expert Dave Field went back to discussing Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and who had the fastest punch and the general health of the ring until Hollioake had to move off for a television interview.

I am not saying, on the basis of one adroit piece of behaviour, that Hollioake should be the England one-day captain. Vaughan has all the right qualifications and he is no fool at a public gathering. An ability to know what is right for him, which invitation to accept and which to turn away, will be an important part of his judgement in the next few years.

He will have to be tough, to pick his moment, to listen to all the advice and sift it rapidly, to greet some men and ignore others, to learn to cat nap and deal with the worries that will sometimes keep him awake at night. Being captain of an Ashes-winning side is like playing three-dimensional chess while performing heart surgery and picking a safe lock left-handed. All at the same time.

Hussain has most of these tricks; some captains never learn half of them. Vaughan will have to find the answers or his life will be a misery.

I'm not sure, and I have never been, whether Hollioake is good enough a cricketer for the England one-day side but I am more sure than ever that he has the right stuff to be a remarkable leader. Perhaps he will still get the chance to prove his worth although at the moment a long run of Surrey triumphs seems to be his best bet for further entries in Wisden.

The word is also growing that Bilal Shafayat is the right material for the one-day side and maybe a Test squad and that one day he will fulfil all his dreams. He wants to lead England at Lord's with a century which he will mark by falling to his knees to praise Allah.

Now is the time for a cry for help from whatever gods we believe control our destiny. Those of us without a religious conviction will keep our fingers crossed; the others can offer up prayers that this 18-year-old, short and slightly-built lad from a Pakistani family does not, in the words of another wise old man "have all that talent coached out of him."

If he is allowed to remain true to himself, to play his wonderful shots when he feels the time is right; if he is supported when, inevitably, he hits a loss of form and a run famine; there are huge rewards to be garnered.

Not just that he can bat and bowl in a way that had Test writ large but that where he succeeds a host of other English-born lads from the sub-continent will want to follow and in the later part of the 21st century that may be important. It does not matter that he is small, or that he has charmed a host of media men and women with his outburst of confidence or that he lists "praying" as one of his hobbies. You may have to be as old as me to remember that some of the great batsmen were small. One was called Donald George Bradman and he made a few runs; but then so did the guys in the past 200 years when men were less well fed.

Cricket's measurements were made to fit such men: the 22 yard pitch, the five and a half ounce ball, the four and a quarter inch bat, the 28 inch stumps, nine inches in width. Hence the success of Bradman, of Tendulkar, of Sunil Gavaskar who all found a way of batting that coped with both the bouncer as well as the yorker.

As for Shafayat's racial background, his faith and his certainty that he is chosen to play for England and eventually to lead the side — oh that a few more of our players had such qualities.

It is the man inside the cricketer that is important not the cricketer inside the man.

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