Birmingham: England fans knew Nasser Hussain’s time as captain was running out.
But few expected him to resign his post on Tuesday following the drawn first Test against South Africa at Edgbaston.
Someone who had an inkling of what might happen was the Proteas’ skipper Graeme Smith, who at 22 is 13 years younger than 35-year-old Hussain.
Hussain quit one-day International cricket after England’s first-round World Cup exit which led England to appoint Michael Vaughan, now Hussain’s Test successor, as one-day skipper.
And Smith said the ‘two captains’ problem would be an issue for England. Following his success in leading the team against Pakistan and the triangular series, where England beat South Africa in the final, Vaughan, 28, looked the heir apparent.
“I think Michael Vaughan has shown in the last few months that he is a very capable leader and that’s what I have been waiting for,” said Hussain, who added he felt “tired” by the demands of the job. Hussain, an emotional character, added: “I just wasn’t good enough.”
His typically blunt self-criticism was unduly harsh. Reasons which were perhaps closer to the truth emerged when he said: “I feel it is coming to a slight change in era.”
Change in approach
Hussain — who is continuing as a Test player — once seen as the angry young man of English cricket, had become firmly entrenched as one of the old guard.
He had been away from the England team for nearly two months as they worked under Vaughan. England players during the one-day series spoke glowingly of Vaughan’s “relaxed” approach to captaincy which contrasted sharply with Hussain’s self-confessed “aggressive” style of leadership.
Asked if he felt like an outsider upon his return, the Indian-born Hussain replied: “A little bit.”
Appointed after hosts England were knocked out in the first round of the 1999 World Cup, Hussain had to endure boos from The Oval crowd after losing his first Test series as skipper against New Zealand. But he was soon winning plaudits for his tactics.
Under Hussain, England became a far more difficult side to beat, from 2000 onwards winning four series in a row against Zimbabwe, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The 35-year-old captained England 45 times with 17 wins, 15 defeats and 13 draws. Brearley won 18 Tests for England while Peter May held the record with 20. But he could not lead the team to victory over Australia — something no England captain has done since Mike Gatting in 1986-87.
Australia’s cricket culture has advanced to the point where their current Test side is regarded as one of the best teams in cricket history. England, for reasons beyond Hussain’s control, never had the players to give the Australians a meaningful contest as 4-1 thrashings in 2001 and away in 2002-03 proved.
If that were not enough, Hussain also became ground down by the protracted saga of whether England should play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe.
Battered from all sides, Hussain felt his side had been badly let down by the authorities.
Meanwhile his habit of constantly talking to his fledgling pace bowlers from mid-off was slammed by the likes of England great Ian Botham.
But Hussain, born in Madras, is set to leave a lasting legacy in the increasing identification of British Asians with the England team. That has been reflected in the rise of the likes of Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali into the England side. Whether they too have the same impact as Hussain remains to be seen.
Hussain’s departure was greeted with a mixture of surprise and regret but brought many tributes from the English media on Tuesday.
Former England opener Geoffrey Boycott, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said Hussain had resigned “in haste”, blaming his decision to quit on the fact that “England have had a poor game and the seam bowling has been pathetic.” But former England fast bowler Bob Willis said Hussain’s retirement was the “right decision”. “His timing is brave, because captains normally leave in humiliating circumstances,” Willis wrote in his Daily Mail column.
Commentators and former players agreed that Hussain’s legacy was to leave an England side in better shape than the one he inherited from Alec Stewart after the World Cup in 1999.
“It was the fate of Nasser Hussain to lead his men from the marshes of mediocrity to the borders of the promised land,” wrote Daily Mirror.
Angus Fraser said: “During his four years in charge Hussain led his side with a passion that was absent from any of the four England captains I played under.”