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England on right road for glory in World Cup

By Mark Nicholas

3 April 1998

ODD, or even disloyal as it may sound, it did not matter that England lost Wednesday's thrilling second one-day match in Barbados. In fact, the one-wicket defeat may have been a good thing, taking account of the run-up to the World Cup next year and the need for all eventualities to have confronted the team if they are to progress from being a good, street fighting one-day unit to being a special team capable of winning the tournament.

As one who was not lucky enough to see England perform in Sharjah, it has been an unreserved joy to watch the general effervescence and the delight they have in each other complement their practical efficiency. There is not a precious man among them, no prima to demand the limelight, and the relaxed, often smiling faces illustrate clearly that these fellows are having a good time, so their audience will as well.

Much of this comes from the lead given by Adam Hollioake who, along with Matthew Maynard and Steve Marsh, is the best captain in county cricket at present. Hollioake has the knack of sparking people around him, which is more than just a motivational thing. It comes from the enthusiasm and easy-going confidence that are a part of his make-up, and from the urgency and determination that is the signature of his play.

He may not be the team's most gifted cricketer, though there is, I still believe, a real quality to his batting that we have not yet seen, but he is their most gifted leader, which is why the selectors ought to consider him seriously when deciding who should captain the Test team.

It may not be too long before the same selectors are conceding that further investment in brother Ben is a necessity. To see the younger Hollioake's almost apologetic stroll to the crease on Wednesday in the face of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh bowling fast on a helpful and bouncy pitch, and then to watch the amount of time he had for cool defence as well as one or two audacious attacking strokes - the pull shot of Ambrose was a real beauty - was further confirmation of a rare talent that ought to dominate county matches early this summer and guarantee a full tour of Australia by winter.

His brief innings on Wednesday was invaluable because it gave England momentum after the awkward early exchanges, and gave Nick Knight some breathing space from the sole responsibility of another fast start.

Knight was fantastically good in both matches - 122 in 129 balls on Sunday, 90 in 107 balls on Wednesday - and appears to have sorted out the technical problems that bothered him against the Australians last season.

Drives down the ground were much a feature of his batting as the usual square cuts, and some of those pick-up style hooks and pulls were breathtaking enough to earn a nod of grudging approval from Ambrose himself. Really, Knight ought to be a Test cricketer too given his flair and intelligence for the game, never mind his terrific fielding, and the selectors are bound to find themselves debating the Mark Butcher/Nick Knight issue, with the balance this time swinging back to Knight.

One who will almost certainly not become a Test player but who nevertheless has taken to the big time with evident relish is Kent's Etonian and former Greenjacket, Matthew Fleming.

What a cricketer he has become and almost entirely through the sheer force of his personality. When he is not busy scything the fast bowlers over extra cover he is trying to sweep them - no nod of approval from Ambrose there - and when he is not taking wickets with his crafty medium-dobbers he is effecting run-outs or clinging to important catches.

While watching him in Barbados one could imagine him alongside Henry V at Agincourt; a bright, uncomplicated soldier whose heart and pride are on his sleeve and whose unselfish commitment personifies the team and the reason for their recent success.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 03 Apr1998 - 10:33