In 1995, Surrey epitomised all that was wrong with English cricket. They had plenty of talent but were habitual under-achievers whose glory days were receding into the distance: after winning the Championship seven seasons in a row in the 1950s, they had won it only once more, and that was back in 1971. The team was poorly run and visibly divided - literally so, with a separate dressing-room for capped players. In July 1995, Surrey hit rock bottom, tumbling to 18th place in the table.
It was a custom at The Oval not to appoint an official vice-captain, even though the then captain, Alec Stewart, was an automatic choice for England. That July, the task of standing in for Stewart was handed to a 23-year-old allrounder, Adam Hollioake. Stewart was the ultimate Surrey insider, son of Micky, who had led the team to the 1971 Championship and later became manager. Hollioake, raised in Australia until he was 12, was much more of an outsider, as was the new coach, the former Australian seamer David Gilbert.
Hollioake's approach was refreshingly positive and results improved almost instantly: Surrey won three first-class games and hauled themselves to 12th in the Championship and ninth in the Sunday League (divisions, in those days, existed only in dressing-rooms). But there was still deep disquiet. A special general meeting was called by disaffected members in October: the incoming chairman, Mike Soper, was "staggered" by the depth of feeling. In December, the chief executive, Glyn Woodman, resigned, to be replaced by Paul Sheldon. "Surrey," said Wisden in 1996, "are nothing if not consistent in their inability to win something."
Stewart remained in place but Hollioake, now officially vice-captain, played a larger role. In 1996, he led the team to four Championship victories as Surrey climbed to third, and they confounded Wisden and other observers by winning the Sunday League. In 1997, Hollioake was appointed captain and Surrey won the Benson and Hedges Cup. In 1999, finally, they won the Championship. Unlike 1971, this was not an isolated triumph: they retained the title in 2000, won the B&H again in 2001, and the Championship for the third time in four years in 2002. They had become the most successful team in the country.
If Hollioake changed one thing, it was to defenestrate the tired thinking prevailing in most county dressing-rooms. "It was the blame culture," he reflects. "Captains and managers pointing the finger for not winning. People covering their tracks. We would not be like that. We'd do everything to win but there'd be no aimless stuff. No five-hour fielding practice for the sake of it. If we were fielding well, we wouldn't bother. We asked ourselves what we needed to do to win and suggestions could come from anyone. No one questioned another's desire to win. Democracy's hard to get in county cricket. It comes through trust. If we have to sit around in pink underwear for half an hour beforehand, we will."
The collective realisation of what was required brought with it a need for collective maturity. Martin Bicknell, Alistair Brown, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe were all aged 24 to 28 when Hollioake's reign began; they have grown wiser together. Hollioake was helped by his outsider's perspective, by two key confidants - his father, John, and Alec Stewart, who could have been old-laggish but went along with the new broom. Both had experience of Australian grade cricket and espoused its virtues. "I grew up with the Australian view," Adam says. "The main thing was to win, not how. I have carried that with me."
ADAM JOHN HOLLIOAKE was born in Melbourne on September 5, 1971, into a family with roots going back five generations in the old gold-mining city of Ballarat. Helpfully, there was a cricketing seam. Adam's great-uncle Rex played against Len Hutton's touring MCC side in 1955 and his father, a talented player but better coach, represented Ballarat and Fitzroy. Adam's mother, Daria, is half Australian, half Indonesian.
At first, he was not that fussed about cricket. Like many boys in Victoria, he preferred Australian Rules football, which was the main sport at St Patrick's College in Ballarat, and even when his father's work as an engineer took the family across the world to Weybridge in 1983, he found rugby union more appealing. He first considered taking up cricket full-time when Surrey offered him a contract in 1991. He saw cricket as a way to get out of going to Durham University.
As Surrey's interest indicated, his ability with bat and ball had by now made itself apparent. He was a useful performer, good enough to have trials for England Under-15s. "A quite fast bowler, No. 11 bat and a bit rough, but Surrey thought there was something they could mould," is how he put it, looking back. "There were better players," he added. By the time of his first Championship appearance, against Derbyshire at Ilkeston in August 1993, he was considered good enough to bat at No. 7. A second-innings 123 from 178 balls suggested that was a conservative estimate. In 1994, his first full season, his haul was 722 first-class runs and 26 wickets. The following year he collected 1,099 runs, 21 wickets and a county cap. In 1996 he went up another level with 1522 runs at 66 and five hundreds. But his aggressive batting and inventive medium-pace allsorts were among the few bright spots for a county embroiled in special meetings, management reviews and accusations of undemocratic administration.
Hollioake was not the most obvious choice to share the captaincy with Stewart. "At 21, I would have been the last person to captain a side," he says now. "I led a pretty wild lifestyle and was fairly anti-establishment. I've never been keen on the job, it's not something I've ever had a desire to do and I have no fear of losing it. I've wanted to be the best allrounder in Surrey and England but never the best captain. I've tried to hand it in half-a-dozen times, thinking maybe someone else should do it, but have been talked out of it."
Whatever Hollioake's views, Surrey's opinion was shared by England, who asked him to lead the A team to his native Australia in 1996-97. The tour was an outstanding success. England had brought him into the one-day international side in August 1996 and he marked two appearances against Pakistan with four wickets in each. More glory followed against Australia early in 1997, this time with the bat: he scored 66, 53 and 4, all unbeaten, and hit the winning run in each game. His 19-year-old brother and Surrey team-mate, Ben, made a princely entrance in the third game, at Lord's; Adam was man of the series. For a heady, overheated month or two, the Hollioakes were all over the media as the bright new faces of English cricket.
The Ashes series began without them and England amazed themselves by taking the lead before Australia fought back to go 2-1 up with two to play. England's last throw of the dice was to send for both Hollioakes - the first brothers to play in the same England Test team in 40 years. Adam fought gamely in their debut match at Trent Bridge, making a composed 45 and adding a hundred with Thorpe, but the sight of him misreading Shane Warne made a more lasting impression, and his front-foot technique struggled to adjust to Test cricket. Retained, unlike Ben, for the winter Test tour of the West Indies, he was soon cast into the cold, like so many England cricketers of the 1990s, without playing a full series.
In one-day cricket, he did get a decent run. When Mike Atherton opted out of a four-team tournament in Sharjah at the end of 1997, Hollioake was the adventurous, if logical, choice to captain the side. A revamped team strong on allrounders and enthusiasm surprised India, Pakistan and West Indies (twice) and walked off with England's first tournament success for ten years. Pakistan's defeat later earned a reference in Justice Malik Qayyum's inquiry into match-fixing and Hollioake, who was himself approached for information, admits the triumph became tainted. But Matthew Fleming, who was in that squad and knew something about leadership from the Army, declared him "a natural leader".
When Atherton resigned at the end of another lost Test series in the West Indies, Hollioake kept the one-day job but soon found that harder too. He dislocated his shoulder, his form crumbled and six games were lost in succession. Within a few months the idea of having two captains was abandoned and the one-day captaincy devolved on Stewart, Atherton's successor as Test captain. Fleming felt the decision meant that "England lost the 1999 World Cup before it started".
Hollioake remained a one-day regular until the premature end of that World Cup campaign, but he was destined for the wilderness. "My game deteriorated," he said. "I stopped playing my shots. After a few low scores, I started thinking it would be best to work the ball around and that is not the way I play." The novelty of his bowling had worn off too, and the shoulder injury stopped him hurling himself into his delivery.
The self-doubt carried over into county cricket. While his captaincy work finally bore fruit in four-day cricket in 1999 and 2000 with Surrey's first Championship titles since the year of his birth, his batting average fell and bowling average rose for three successive seasons from 1998.
Liberation arrived last year by the most painful means imaginable. The death of Ben, in a car crash on the way home from a family reunion in Perth, forced Adam to reappraise his life. He stayed in Australia for the birth of his first child, Bennaya, and did not rejoin Surrey until two months into the English season, keeping in touch with the team's fortunes by phone and the internet. After some discussion, it was decided he should resume as captain - in another sign of a well-run club, both Mark Butcher and Ian Ward had led capably in his absence - and he immediately showed the old sureness of touch. But more practical skills felt different. When he picked up a bat for the first time in weeks, it felt like an axe.
He was soon wielding it like one as his batting assumed greater assurance than ever. In his Championship comeback against Somerset he struck 87 off 83 balls and he followed up with two brisk fifties against Warwickshire. Then, in the space of a few days, he hit 117 in 59 balls in a one-day quarter-final at Hove and a counter-attacking Championship century - his first for three years - at Canterbury. "That wasn't me," he observed. "I can't bat that well."
With the title in the bag, he rounded off the season with a maiden double-hundred against Leicestershire. The death of the placid Ben had taught his more aggressive brother to relax. "It made me get a perspective back on life as a whole," he said. "My job was important and I had pride in it but I realised that happiness was more important. I enjoyed hitting the ball into the crowd but to hit sixes you need to take risks. I had no fear of failure."
The year ended with Hollioake, now 31, called back to Australia as cover for England's one-day squad. He made it on to the field only once, in a warm-up game against a Bradman XI at Bowral, but took his chance with a hard-hit 53 off 38 balls. Although he could not push his way past Ronnie Irani into the World Cup squad, his name was bandied about as soon as Nasser Hussain handed in the one-day captaincy. The Hollioake story is not yet run.
Simon Wilde is cricket correspondent of The Sunday Times.