No. 29 July 5, 2009

Hollioake stands up to McGrath

An English teenager makes a startling debut against the old enemy

London, 25 May 1997

Ben Hollioake did things young. He played Test cricket as a teenager, which is unheard of in England. He made his debut in a one-day international at Lord's against Australia in 1997, alongside his brother Adam. Mike Atherton decided to send Ben, a seam-bowling allrounder, in at No. 3 as a pinch hitter - so called because the members pinched themselves when they saw his hitting.

Third ball, he straight-drove Glenn McGrath for four. Soon he was clipping him into the Tavern for six, causing delirium. When Shane Warne came on, he swept him for four. The nonchalance was irresistible.

The Lord's pavilion is full of old men, because the waiting list to become a member is 18 years long, and when this 19-year-old was out, for 63 off only 48 balls, they rose creakily from their benches and stood to acclaim him. It was an intensely moving sight. Here at last was an England cricketer who could bat, bowl, field, and shine on the big stage. Alec Stewart said he was the most gifted cricketer he had played alongside.

That first fine careless rapture was never to be repeated. While Ben produced similar pieces of magic for Surrey, two of them in Lord's finals, his first-class form was patchy and his England progress fitful. The fickle selection that had brought him into the team soon squeezed him out: he played only 20 of a possible 84 one-dayers, and just two Tests. In 2002, he died, aged 24, in a car accident in Perth. So he stays, in cricket's folk memory, forever young, and when you think of him, you think of that day at Lord's.

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine