Even in a lockdown situation, some cricketers are harder to pin down than others.
“There’s no excuse is there,” laughs Adam Hollioake. “Speaking to you was probably the only thing I had to do today and I forgot. I went to do a workout instead.”
Speaking to The CC from his home in Queensland, Hollioake is reflecting on one of the strangest periods of his or anyone’s life. And he appears to be making the most of it.
“I know a lot of people have been struggling with this but, for me, it’s like I’m in rehab,” he says.
“I get up in the morning, I eat well, I make myself a proper breakfast, I’ve taken the car out of the garage, parked it down the side of the house and turned the double garage into an Olympic gym.
“I’ve got weightlifting benches, I’ve got weights, I’ve got platforms and I’m absolutely punishing myself. I’m feeling so much better for it. I’m also spending so much more time with the kids. I feel like a new version of me.”
Surrey fans would argue that the old version wasn’t too shabby, with Hollioake having captained the side through the most successful period in the club’s recent history. Under his guidance, the Brown Caps won three County Championship titles in four seasons between 1999 and 2002. Throw in two Benson and Hedges titles and a NatWest Pro40 League, and it’s little wonder that the now 48-year-old is still revered in South London.
When he left the Oval in 2004, Mark Nicholas described him as the best captain England never had, although his adopted country’s loss was most definitely Surrey’s gain. Despite the strength of the Surrey side he led, though, the man himself insists that the current crop at the Oval have taken things to the next level.
“It’s a golden generation isn’t it,” he says. “It’s something akin to what happened to us in the early to mid-90s, I think. Every year we were producing a player who was a potential England player and we did that for four or five years in a row.
“It’s a special time. There’s a lot of good people involved in the club, you’ve got Michael Gould, Alec Stewart and Michael Di Venuto and everyone seems happy there. I was fortunate enough to be there for the 175th anniversary dinner and it just seems to me to be a club that has got everything together, not just on the field but off it.
“I think that’s a sign that’s something special is about to happen. We had that when I first started in 1993, ’94, ’95. We had good players, good coaches and a good CEO. We learnt how to win and then just got on a golden run.
“It’s hard to do because there are a lot of other good counties out there who are trying to do the same thing. But Surrey look like they’re in a good place.”
Hollioake has a point when he says that winning consistently isn’t easy. You only have to look at the statistics of Surrey’s 2019 season; despite romping to the Championship 12 months before and being heavily fancied at the outside, the county limped over the line in seventh place, having won just two out of their 14 matches.
Not that that hindered England’s enthusiasm for their academy products across all formats, with the likes of Ollie Pope, Sam and Tom Curran playing a full role for their country, alongside Rory Burns and former Oval prodigy Dominic Sibley.
“A lot of people were backing Surrey to clean up, but the County Championship is a tough one, especially when you have players coming and going and one of those players (Rory Burns) is the captain,” says Hollioake.
“You can have the players but when they start playing for England you have to start balancing the squad. You’re bringing players in from the second team too, and that requires organisation, good management and a good team spirit. That’s without adding the need to have the ability to win games of cricket.
“Everything has to be in place for a team to be successful. A lot of those boys are going to be playing for England for next five to ten years and that’s the situation we had too. Alec (Stewart) and Graham (Thorpe) were always away, so was Mark Butcher. Then you had myself, my brother, Ally Brown, Martin Bicknell, Joey Benjiman and then the overseas players too. It’s a balancing act but I think Surrey will get better at it.
“When it first started happening to us, we would say ‘how are we supposed to win without our England players’. But then the squad players start to put their hand-up and develop their games. That’s when you become a really good side.”
The arrival of the next generation of talent at the Oval was evident in the performances of teenager Jamie Smith and the 21-year-old pair Will Jacks and Amar Virdi, who topped the bowling averages in Surrey’s County Championship campaign.
It may not be too long before England come knocking for them too, so Surrey supporters might be advised to enjoy them while they can. Adding to that County Championship title in 2018 is clearly well within their compass but, again, Hollioake doesn’t expect Stewart’s side to have things all their own way.
“I never expect one county to dominate in the Championship,” he says. “There are so many factors to take into account. People would always say to me that we should win the Championship. I would turn around and say: ‘if you knew how hard it was to win one match in the Championship, let alone do it consistently for a whole season…’
“There are always so many things to contend with. International call-ups, injury, loss of form… you can get tired, the coaches don’t get the training regime right, there are so many factors. Above everything else, you need a bit of luck.
“You’re praying to your god, but the other teams are praying to theirs as well. It’s the toughest competition in domestic cricket anywhere in the world.
“This side, though, have all the pieces in place to try and do that. I said to them last year that winning one Championship is amazing but only legends win it multiple times. So if they want to be legends they have to keep going. If they want their names to live forever then they have to do what they did in 2018 over and over again.”
If or when the County Championship season begins, the current crop can set about doing just that. The ball is in their court and the cricket world, seemingly, is at their feet.