Cricket interview

Adam Hollioake, former England ODI and Surrey captain

When people are asked to name their most admired captains from the late 1990s one person’s name comes up more than most, former Surrey and England one-day captain, Adam Hollioake. And when you look at his record it’s a difficult one to argue: 3 county championships, 2 Benson & Hedges Cups, a NatWest Pro 40 League title (and division 2 title), a Twenty20 Cup and then throw in the Sharjah Cup with England, and you have a truly phenomenal haul.

Yet one man who doesn’t want to take the credit for any of the above is Adam himself! “I can’t take any credit for the skills that Surrey team had,” remarked Adam. “Some people have me down as this genius captain who put fielders in positions that others didn’t. I don’t see it that way. The best bit of my captaincy was my ability to manage a group of difficult individuals and being able to take that squad out on to the field in the right frame of mind and happy. Anyone could have captained on the field and got the success we did. Decisions like whether to have 3 slips or 4 didn’t win us those championships; it was keeping that squad motivated, focused and wanting to win, oh and not killing each other!”

More on Adam’s captaincy and achievements later. Let’s begin with his journey to England and a county cricket career at Surrey.

Born in Melbourne, Adam travelled around the world a lot as a youngster. His father’s job as an engineer saw the Hollioake family move from country to country. In fact, by the time the Hollioake’s arrived in England when Adam was 12, he’d already attended 10 different schools!

But the move to England brought stability and more importantly a real love for cricket. “Growing up I liked watching the exciting players, players who could bowl quick and whack it hard!” Dennis Lillee, Viv Richards, Imran Khan and Ian Botham were the four players who immediately sprung to Adam's. With the likes of Khan and Botham as talented all-rounders it was probably little surprise that he would end up becoming an outstanding all-round cricketer himself for both county and country.

“I actually started as an out and out fast bowler, but I got injured and those injuries cut my pace back so whilst I was injured I practised my batting. I had a year out because of a stress fracture so I spent the whole year focused on my batting. Then when I was fit again to bowl, I was suddenly an all-rounder.”

Adam’s performances at St. George’s School Weybridge, saw him fast tracked through Surrey’s youth teams. “I played in all of the Surrey age group sides, then at 15 I was asked to go and play for Surrey’s under 19 side. I went along and did really well and Ian Greig offered me a contract. I’ll be honest I didn’t even know what a contract was! I rang mum and dad up and all I could think about was I was going to be the richest man in England on £5,000 a year! At the time I was on £5 a week pocket money! My parents wanted me to study and go to university, but I was keen to get my hands on the money! I signed the contract. I was still at school at the time, so I was being paid while I was at school and then when I finished I went and played the second half of the season for Surrey.”

It’s quite an achievement for any 15-year-old to play and perform at under 19 level, but Adam put it down to his early development. “At the age of 12 I was just a big kid, as big as I am now, so I was a very early developer, which definitely helped my cricket.”

Adam made his 1st XI debut in August 1993 against Derbyshire and despite being picked as an out and out bowler, scored a magnificent hundred. “I was fortunate that we had a long tail, so even though I was selected as a bowler, I was put at number 7 in the order. I got a hundred and never looked back. The next game I got picked as a batsman and was moved up to number 6 and scored 80, and my career just went from there. But that period out injured where I concentrated on batting really helped me. Two years earlier I was batting at number 11. Now when I coach players, I encourage them if they are injured to practice other areas of the game, to try and become all-rounders. If you’re an injured bowler, go and hit a thousand balls a day and get good at it. The more strings to your bow, particular in today’s game, the better it is.”

Returning to Adam’s Surrey debut... the Derbyshire side that day had the likes of Devon Malcolm and Dominic Cork in their bowling attack and what makes Adam’s debut century even more remarkable is he scored it, against that attack, without a helmet! “It wasn’t me being brave, I’d just never ever worn a helmet batting. I didn’t want to make my debut with a helmet on when I’d never worn one before. I didn’t think I’d be able to perform so I went out with my cap on! Eventually Alec Stewart said to me that I had to start wearing one or I’d get cleaned up at some stage. So I practised and practised and learnt how to bat with one on. It’s pretty crazy when I look back and now I see the equipment that players have, I just had this mindset that I’d rather get hit that get out.”

I asked Adam if he thought not playing in a helmet in those early years actually helped his reflexes? “Funnily enough from speaking with older players from the pre-helmet era, they tell me they never got hit, and I never got hit when I didn’t wear one, it was only when I did wear a helmet that I got hit. It may well have helped the reflexes but also I think wearing a helmet you take more risks; you take on a shot you wouldn’t have taken on without one. At the end of the day, in today’s game, it’s just not worth taking the risk of not wearing one.”

Adam’s early success at Surrey saw him named captain for the first time when he was just 22 years of age. “With Alec Stewart away with England they needed someone to captain in his absence, I was shocked they when they asked me. I’d never captained any side. I was quite a rebellious and fiery teenager so I’m not sure why they chose me. I guess it was because I was quite competitive and I think people respected the fact I played hard cricket.”

The appointment soon became permanent and I asked Adam how easy/difficult it was to be a young captain with a side full of internationals.

“It was an intimidating thought to captain that Surrey side. But you’re not going to say no. If I’m honest, I was nervous captaining teams with the likes of Alec and Graham (Thorpe) and other England guys in. These players had played international cricket and had a lot more experience than me. That was the thing I had to get over. But like anything in life, you get some success and your confidence grows. As your confidence grows the better you become.”

At the time of Adam taking over Surrey, they were a county who had flattered to deceive, but within a few years they were winning championships and one day competitions. In fact, it’s fair to say they were probably the old Manchester United of cricket.

9 trophies were won during Adam’s time in charge, including country championship wins in 1999, 2000 and 2002. What were his highlights?

“The county championship is the one competition all players want to win. It’s the competition that takes up the most time. We played 16, 4-day games, to win that title. That’s a lot of cricket. Ask anyone who has played a 4-day game and they’ll tell you how hard it is to win. You have to take 20 wickets, sometimes on flat pitches against very good sides. So to win how many we did over a season to win a title, says something. The hardest things in life are the best things in life when you overcome them. Of course the shorter games and cup competitions are nice and it’s nice playing in finals at Lords, but the championship is always the one. I can honestly say that I can remember everything about those title wins, I can’t say the same about Sunday league wins etc.”

So, what was the key to Surrey’s success? “We had very good cricketers, but we also had very edgy characters. We didn’t have guys who would just turn up in their tracksuits, take their pay-checks and not challenge their team-mates; our squad had so many different characters who were quite rebellious and outspoken. My role on the field was easy. Managing them off the field was the hardest! Half of the time we hated each other! But every one of us had professional respect for each other. We had players who would go to bed at 10pm, we had others that would go no nightclubs, to strips clubs, to play chess, we had everything! But every single player had professional respect for one another. You sometimes hear about how important it is to have team spirit, to do everything together like meals etc, but for me the most important thing is to have professional respect and play hard.”

And I was intrigued to know how difficult it was to manage international players coming back into that Surrey team that had being winning, and having to leave players out despite them maybe making important contributions?

“Really tough and probably the toughest part of the job. We really appreciated the players that came in when the Test players were away and we always made sure as a squad we showed our appreciation. At times one of them would score a hundred or take 5 wickets, then Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, Mark Butcher and Alec Tudor would come back in for the next game and they weren’t going to play. It was a unique situation that needed managing, but as a team we always made sure we showed our appreciation for those guys that came in. We made everyone aware that if we were to win Championships we needed those players. I think that’s why those back up players stayed with us and didn’t move to other counties. They would have walked into any other county side, but because they stayed we were able to win trophy after trophy.

Adam played many crucial innings for Surrey and put in many great bowling spells, but what were his favourites from his time at the Oval? “My hundred on debut definitely and the season I got the most wickets in the Sunday League, but for me it was never really about those centuries or 5 wickets hauls; it was more the periods of having to get us over the line in tight situations with bat or ball. Those contributions in pressure situations meant much more to me than big scores.”

Adam’s performances for Surrey saw him selected for England in the one-day series against Pakistan in 1996. Adam was selected for the 2nd game of that series at Edgbaston where he took an impressive 4/23 with the ball. He followed that up with another 4 wicket haul (4/45) in the third game as England won the series 2-1. “It was great to make my debut, and to get 4 wicket hauls in my first two games was a great start to international cricket.”

The winter of 1996 saw Adam appointed captain of England’s A team tour to Australia. A tour that Adam calls “the greatest touring squad, ever!”

“We were unbeaten throughout the whole tour. We had the likes of Mark Butcher, Glen Chapple, Dean Headley, Ashley Giles, Michael Vaughan, Owais Shah and Craig White. We won all the games against the State sides, who were unbelievably strong. It was also the best drinking tour ever! It was a stag party who played some of the best cricket ever! One day in Adelaide, David Graveney, the tour manager, had waited up because he heard some players might have been out drinking. Two players got back in at 1am to be met by an angry David Graveney in the hotel lobby. The following morning at breakfast David wanted to speak to me to say that we had a bit of a problem; he’d caught two players coming in at 1am. I asked David if he’d then gone to bed, he said he had, to which I replied ‘well you missed the other 9 of us getting in a 6am then!’. He’d gone to bed thinking he’d caught the culprits when in fact he’d just caught the two who had come back early! We went on and won the game, playing some fantastic cricket. It sounds incredibly unprofessional, but that team just functioned on going out, having a good time and playing hard cricket. It sounds ridiculous now, but that’s just how it was then. The class of 96, what a great collection of blokes!”

The following year Adam’s England career went from strength to strength as he was named man of the series for England’s impressive 3-0 Texaco Trophy win over Australia. In each of the three games Adam saw England home by hitting the winning runs. But it wasn’t just the performance of Adam during that series, another Hollioake came on to the scene, Adam’s younger brother Ben.

“I received a call from the selectors saying you’re in the squad and we’re thinking of picking your brother. Ben was just 18 and if I’m honest, I didn’t think he was ready. But they did pick him and he went on to do what he did.”

Chasing an imposing 270 to win, Ben came in at number 3 and took an Australian attack of McGrath, Warne, Kasprowicz and Gillespie to pieces, scoring a breath-taking 63 from just 48 balls. “He came out and hit Warne and McGrath to all parts, it was one of the biggest highlights of my career seeing my little brother go out and do that, to that attack. They had a crazy bowling attack, but he destroyed it. As he went out, I just thought get to 20 and anything more than that is a bonus, you can be happy with your contribution but he just kept going and going and going. He hit Warne into the top of the Mound stand! All of that said I still didn’t think he was ready. There was no doubt he was talented and had the ability to do that, but I do think the selectors should have waited a year or two. It’d have been better for his longer-term development.”

There was a real buzz around the country after that ODI series. Could this be the series that England finally win back the Ashes? England rode the wave and comprehensively won the 1st Test match of the series, before the Aussies bounced back emphatically.

Despite the success of the Hollioake brothers in the one-day series, the selectors didn’t pick either of them for the 1st Test and neither got the call until the 5th Test match of the series, when England were then trailing by two Tests to one.

“I was disappointed not to be picked for that 1st Test. I did see where the selectors were coming from in that they wanted to stick to a format which had worked well for them and not to break it just because someone had, had a good one-day series. But I felt I had an edge over that Australian team. I felt as though I had them psychologically beaten. On the field I was not scared to have words with them. I was doing well, scoring runs, and they hadn’t got me out. I was on top of Warne and I wasn’t intimidated by them. Of course, none of that guarantees success, but I felt I should have been picked for that 1st Test. And that’s hard for me to say because who they did pick, Mark Ealham, was one of my best friends in cricket, so while I was frustrated, I was delighted for him.”

By the time Adam and his brother Ben did get the call, the Australian side was on a roll. “It felt like we were getting beaten by Australia so let’s pick these guys and they will sort the problem out. But by that stage Australia were performing, winning and were full of confidence. At the end of day though we were proud to be making our debuts.”

The gravity of Adam and Ben being picked together didn’t dawn on Adam until recently when Sam and Tom Curran played together in a one day international in Sri Lanka. “I only really realised the gravity of it when the Curran boys got picked and it was mentioned that they were the first brothers since the Hollioakes. I love those two boys. I played against their Dad and I’ve seen them up close when coaching England Lions. I take no responsibility for their performances but I’m very close to them but it was when I heard that, that it dawned on me how a big a thing it was for me and Ben to play in the same side. At the time we were young. We were earning good money, cruising around London in our cars, playing for England. Life was good. You never appreciate what you had at the time.”

The following winter, Adam had the honour of being named England one’s day captain for a tour to Sharjah where the squad were to played in a tournament against India and Pakistan. A competition the side went on to win. “We had a squad of players that had been completely thrown together. Athers had been rested, Gough had been rested, as had a few others. We weren’t expected to compete with India and Pakistan in those conditions. The selectors threw together a number of one-day specialists and the tournament wasn’t covered on television back home. There was no real interest, so the pressure was off us. The backroom staff on that tour consisted of three people: David Graveney, the tour manager, David Lloyd, the coach and Wayne Morton, the physio. David Lloyd got ill so our tour manager and physio had to take training and warm-ups! But the whole tour had a relaxed feel to it and we could just go out and play our cricket. We had an incredible group of guys who felt we were out there on our own. The team spirit was unreal we kept winning games and gaining more and more confidence. In the end we felt invincible.”

England won the tournament and I asked Adam how frustrating it was for him personally not to be able to build on that success - Adam remained captain for just 14 games. “We were never able to get a full team out. I never had the luxury of a stable team. Thorpe was out, we had all kinds of problems with the batting line up and we never were able to play the same bowling attack. At the time it felt like the Test side was more important and the one-day side more an afterthought. Don’t get wrong we were not, not treated professionally and not given support, but if someone had, had a hard Test series, they’d be rested for the one-day series and never the other way around. Everything was geared around being successful in Test cricket. Now, I don’t think the side that won Sharjah would have won the World Cup in England in 1999, but it could have formed a nucleus of a side. We just needed to bring in Gough and a couple of others. To discard all of that Sharjah side on the eve of the World Cup I believe was a massive error. It should have been the backbone of that World Cup squad.”

One cannot argue with that, particularly as England went on to be knocked out before their World Cup song had even been released!

Was it disappointing to lose the captaincy? “I guess so. I didn’t really feel I was given the best opportunity to do the best I could with the injuries that we had, but on the other hand, in my whole time of captaincy either for Surrey or England I never valued the job of captain as the be all and end all. I think that was my strongest skill as captain was that I never had the desire to be captain, so in a way I had nothing to lose. All I wanted was to play cricket for England and Surrey. When I lost the captaincy, I was more disappointed that I felt I didn’t have the opportunity to do my best rather than losing the captaincy itself. I must have tried to resign from the Surrey captaincy five times over the years! I was a reluctant captain at times. Sometimes I just wanted to play games of cricket and win and captaincy got in the way of that. I was always talked back into it by my good friend and Surrey coach Keith Medlycott. Every year we’d talk and I’d say why are we having the same conversation? Every year I wanted to resign, and every year he’d talk me back into it! I’d say to him that you can’t be a very good coach if every year I want to resign; he’d just reply I must be a bloody great coach because I always talk you back into it!”

Reflecting on his England one-day career I asked Adam what his personal highlights were. “My first few games obviously and the Australia series at home. But I also loved the tours to Australia where the crowds hated me. They’d call me everything from traitor to Judas, to turncoat - I loved it! I just loved the battle. The more banter I got from the crowd the more energised I became. Ultimately, I just loved being the centre of attention, so when I got sledged or received banter from crowd I loved it! I remember going out there in 1999 and we had to come up with individual tour goals. Goughie’s was to get Steve Waugh out x number of times, Alec Stewart wanted to be leading run scorer, I said I wanted to leave Australia as the most unpopular person in the country - I wanted everyone in that country to hate me! We played the first game at Sydney in front of a full house of 50,000 and the whole crowd, probably including my Mum and Dad, were singing ‘Hollioake is a w$nker!’. Ben was there and just said to me, ‘it looks like you achieved your goal then’!”

Adam’s one-day career saw him play 35 times for England, scoring 606 runs and taking 32 wickets. I asked Adam if he was disappointed not to play more than 4 Test matches?

“I would like to have played more Test cricket but I also understand how these things happen, and the timing of my career. There have been a lot better players than me who never played Test cricket, and a lot worse players than me who have played a lot, so you just take the cards you are dealt with. In another era I might never have got one game. I’d love the opportunity to have played more. I had two Test matches against Australia and two against a good West Indies side, 3 of these Tests were on bad wickets (one of the Tests against the West Indies was abandoned). It would have been nice to have played a series against another side, but I have to be happy with what I achieved.”

In March 2002, Adam’s brother Ben was killed in a car crash in Australia at the age of 24. Ben had gone to play 20 one day internationals for England as well as man of the match appearances for Surrey in Lords finals. He was beginning to come into his prime.

I asked Adam how big a star Ben would have become.

“I really don’t know if I’m honest. For his ability to play cricket, his athleticism and his talent he was equal to anything I ever saw in my time in cricket. To give you an idea, Ben played in the same under 19 side as Freddie Flintoff and Alex Tudor and both said he was by far the most talented. But, I also know my brother! Was he as talented at Alastair Cook, yes. Would he have had Alastair Cook’s ability to turn up every day and be professional, I doubt it very much. But, we’ll never know. I don’t think he would have ended up with long and amazing statistics in cricket because he would have been one of those players who would have done amazing things on a cricket field when his team needed it, but then would have left other games to others. I think he would have been a unique cricketer. There was a player who played for Australia called Keith Miller, who if the team were winning games he didn’t care and wouldn’t try, but when they needed him to, he’d always deliver and I think that’s probably what Ben would have done. He’d be fired up for the big occasions. He played in two Lords finals and got man of the match in both, he smashed Australia everywhere at Lords, he would have been a big game player. Would he have scored in his 13th season of county cricket 130 to save the game at Derbyshire, I doubt it! He was a big match player. I definitely think he would have had a long international career, but was like me he got bored very easily! He’d always want the next challenge.”

A year after Ben’s death, Adam retired from cricket. “I was 31 when I retired. My body was strong and good; I was heading into my peak years but I was just mentally shot after my brother died. I felt I needed to go back to Australia with my parents and my wife at the time hated England. So I decided to retire. It wasn’t a cricket decision I was just mentally shot.”

After retiring, Adam set up a foundation in Ben’s name and raised a considerable amount of money. One impressive fundraiser, saw Adam complete ‘Adam’s Journey’, which involved walking a marathon a day from Edinburgh to Brighton, then sail from Brighton to Dieppe. This was followed by a bike ride from Dieppe to Gibraltar, and then rode from Gibraltar to Africa. “It took us 2 months and it was an incredible experience. The following year we ran a marathon. We managed to do lots of great things and raised lots of money.”

It’s hard to imagine what Adam and his family went through, but I think it speaks volumes and hopefully bring a small degree of comfort that so many people to this day speak about Ben and that innings at Lords. In his short career for England and Surrey he gave so many wonderful memories to supporters. That alone speaks volumes.

Reflecting back on Adam’s cricket career I asked him who were the best players he played with and against. “The most professional was Alec Stewart. Saqlain Mushtaq had the ability to turn games. Mark Ramprakash was the best county batsman. In all forms of cricket, Graham Thorpe was the stand out. He was just brilliant in all forms, Test matches, ODI’s and in both attack and defence. To have Mark and Graham, two amazing guys in charge of England’s batting now, are great appointments by the ECB. For sheer excitement, Waqar Younis. But my favourite was Azhar Mahmood. We used to bat and bowl at the death together and we saw out so many games.”

And playing against? “The toughest was Shane Warne. He wasn’t the best bowler, I thought Murali was better, but as a character Warne was tough. He was such a competitive bloke.”

Adam also named Shane as the captain that he admired most from his playing days. “From a purely tactical basis he was very, very, good. But so was Andrew Strauss. He had the respect of his team and I would say he was the only captain who truly challenged me as a captain, when he was captain of Middlesex. I felt when I could always get on top of other county captains, but Strauss was the one who I felt really challenged me. He was a very good captain.”

Most people take things easy when they retire, but that’s not in Adam’s nature. He loves a new challenge and after cricket, he turned professional at MMA. “I found MMA easier than cricket. In cricket I always struggled to hold concentration for a full day, but with MMA it’s very short and explosive. People who don’t understand it just think it’s a fight, and of course there is an element of that, but there are so many skills involved. In total there are probably over 1,000 moves. If you think of all of the skills involved in cricket, there are so, so many more in MMA. I understand it’s not for everyone, but for me it was the ultimate competition and something I loved competing in.”

Adam’s progress in the sport was quick and in 2016 he was meant to fight for a world title, when one morning he just woke up and realised he didn’t want to fight anymore. “I’ve never ever struggled with training. I was always the hardest trainer, but one morning, seven weeks out from a World title fight, I just woke up and I didn’t want to do it. I was sick and tired of being punched in the face and thought I don’t want to do it anymore. I had no interest in fighting. It was time for the next challenge.”

And that next challenge was a return to cricket. Adam got involved with the ECB, supporting Andy Flower with the England Lions. “It was an amazing experience which I loved. We had a great bunch of kids. Andy Flower is an amazing coach, I learnt so much from him. I always thought coaching was easy, but then I realised I needed to do an apprenticeship. I was very thankful to Andrew Strauss for giving me that opportunity.”

After impressing with England, Adam was approached by Queensland to become their assistant coach. A role he took up. “I loved the coaching with England, but with the other coaching gigs I was doing I was away from home 8 months of the year; when Queensland approached me, it was the perfect role. I can be at home close to my family and coach a brilliant State side. It’s the perfect job. I really want to develop as a coach and I’m loving the role at Queensland.”

Adam’s role in Australian cricket makes him an ideal person to give his thoughts on this year’s Ashes series between the two countries. “It’s going to be a really good series. In England you have to make England favourites, but Australia won’t be easy. With Warner and Smith, they will have two top 10 batsmen returning with a point to prove and they have a very good fast bowling attack. It’s set up to be a great series, it could genuinely be like 2005.”

And the World Cup? “This has to be the first time an England side go into a World Cup as favourites, but rightly so, they are the best England one-day side I’ve seen. Just amazing.”

And ‘amazing’ is a great word to summarise Adam and what he’s achieved in the game. His captaincy record is up there with the best, and he and his brother brought so many memorable moments, moments that will always live on. I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years’ time if the name Hollioake is being bandied around as a future England coach. You read it here first!

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