An unlikely Essex boy
In cricket's worst-kept secret since Michael Vaughan resigned as England one-day captain earlier this week, Adam Hollioake has signed up to make his Twenty20 return. It's four years since he captained Surrey to success in the inaugural tournament, but he won't be turning out for them this time: he will be playing for Essex.
"I wanted to play for Surrey," he admits. But despite excelling for them in 2003 and '04, times have moved on. Surrey's focus is understandably on their younger players - Hollioake is now 35 - and so he had to settle on Essex instead. Then again, it was their coach's idea that he should return to the game.
Graham Gooch spotted that he still had the talent earlier this year while they were playing beach cricket in Australia - where Hollioake was born and is now settled, with a slight Aussie twang to boot - and suggested he make a comeback. Business commitments Down Under prevented Hollioake from considering a full-time role but a month out for Twenty20, and a charity event, was plausible.
While Surrey are experts in this short game, Essex have made the finals day only once in four seasons - and they snapped him up. It must be hard to parachute straight into a side, almost as an overseas player must feel. I ask if he feels like an Essex player yet. He pauses. "I met the guys for the first time on Monday. I think once I start playing I will be more part of it."
Netting has gone well. "I started off scratchy last week. But I had good net on Monday. It's all coming good at the last minute!" Indeed, he signed just three days before his first match in Essex colours, against Sussex, this Friday.
He's super-fit at least, a self-confessed fanatic, fitter even than in his playing days. "Cricket prevents you from getting fit - you spend so much time on the pitch." This includes training for his recent boxing match in London with the former All Black Eric Rush. Hollioake has boxed since his youth and enjoyed the experience hugely, even though he lost on points.
"It was a tough fight," he says. "It was exactly what I expected. It was hard, a hard game. It didn't hold any surprises. I love fighting. I'm a bit of a sicko!" [laughs] "Anything... as long as it's legal."
Would he do it again? "I'd do anything for charity." Yes, he would. This fight was for a children's charity, Sparks. Earlier this year he did the marathon for the CHASE Ben Hollioake Fund, set up in memory of his brother who died in 2002. Over the last few years he's done treks, bike rides and sailing events for good causes. He even played ice cricket.
Ben's death has inevitably made him a more sober character, and charity commitments are an example, but his sparkling, cheeky spirit remains. He giggles naughtily, for example, when I ask if playing for Essex is his biggest act of charity yet.
The marathon went well. While most were sweltering on a surprisingly warm April day, it wasn't so hot for Hollioake, used to the Perth heat. "I was one of the only ones running in the sun and I had a free course. My cricket bat began to get heavy towards the end!"
Despite being weighed down by full kit, he completed it in six hours. Then again, he is fiercely competitive. This streak came out in beach cricket. "We're sportsmen. None like losing - even with a game of cards." Gooch wants to sign him up for another stint next year, and he has provisionally agreed. "I love it. It's great fun."
With all these commitments, it's amazing he does find the time to fit in his property development business, set up in 1998. "Originally it was me, dad and Ben... It's moved on a lot." It's now a full-time occupation and the main reason he won't consider a full comeback.
Time may judge Hollioake as an excellent one-day and Twenty20 player, but it's worth considering his first-class stats, too. Although he played just four Tests, his first-class average is 38.7, higher than Vaughan, Flintoff or Trescothick. His innovative Brearley-esque thinking helped Surrey to three Championship titles, while there's a touch of Imran Khan to the way he melded disparate individuals.
Surrey haven't been anything like the first-class side they were since he left. Still, he has no regrets. There's plenty away from cricket to occupy him, including school runs for his five-year-old daughter Bennaya.
It's the holidays, now, though, which make the Twenty20 campaign convenient. So, how will he feel when he has to face his old teammates when Essex play Surrey at the end of the month? "I've not had time to think about it. I'm just worrying about myself to be honest."
He has actually played one Twenty20 since retiring, a one-off charity match for the Tsunami Fund at The Oval, and he took a hat-trick.
If he can slip so easily back into the groove this time around, what would he think if England came knocking for the World Twenty20 Championship this September? "I hadn't considered that." Then, a pause... And a glimmer. "If that came up I'd have to think about it!"
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo