Adam Hollioake has answered a distress call to join England’s depleted coaching staff amid the Covid outbreak that is threatening the back end of the Ashes series and has now ruled Australia’s Travis Head out of the fourth Test in Sydney.
On the day Australia called up three players to their Test squad in response to Head’s positive result, and the Big Bash League was gripped by a raft of new cases, England asked Hollioake, their former one-day captain, to travel down from his home on the Gold Coast to work with the players next week.
Graham Thorpe is now interim head coach due to Chris Silverwood’s enforced isolation period but currently has only Ant Botha and James Foster, two consultants, to help out. Jon Lewis (seam bowling coach), Jeetan Patel (spin) and Darren Veness (fitness) have all been forced to stay behind in Melbourne after contracting the virus.
Hollioake, the combative former all-rounder who played four Tests and 35 one-day internationals in the late 90s, has been roped in by Thorpe, his former Surrey teammate. The 50-year-old will meet a squad still reeling from losing the series inside 12 days, even if Cricket Australia’s Covid protocols mean he can only work with the players outdoors before the fourth Test starts on 5 January.
“Adam is not just another set of hands,” said Thorpe, before England’s players cleared their latest round of PCR tests and flew to Sydney. “He can bring a bit of energy to the dressing room and the philosophical side of life as well, which is very important in times like this. He’ll bring that nice sense of perspective.
“But also for me it’s about standing up as well. The players have an opportunity. We want to see fight and character. I don’t want to see people drop their heads. There’s no point getting like that. We’ve got two matches left in this series for our players to show they’ve got the character and spirit and the skill to perform.”
While England’s outbreak remains contained to seven individuals – three coaches and four family members – and David Boon, the match referee, has also caught the virus, Head represents the first positive case among either set of players.
Australia’s response to losing their N o5 – calling up batsman Nic Maddinson, all-rounder Mitch Marsh and wicketkeeper Josh Inglis – suggests they are braced for further positives among the now the daily tests being undertaken by both squads.
CA, also battling with outbreaks at two Big Bash franchises, are clearly determined to complete a series that bounces on to Hobart, Tasmania, for the fifth Test. England, 3-0 down and with only pride and World Test Championship points to play for, appear to be on board at this stage, albeit with a number of families having left the tour early.
Though Silverwood will speak to his assistant coach from afar, Thorpe appears to have firmly grasped the helm alongside Joe Root, the captain. Their challenge is to rebuild the confidence of a batting lineup that has failed to make 300 and was shattered to the tune of 68 all out at the MCG.
The 52-year-old cited an example from his 100-cap career – England being bowled out for 46 by West Indies in Trinidad in 1994, before winning the following Test in Barbados – and at least knows the SCG well, having begun his coaching career at New South Wales in 2005-06 under Trevor Bayliss.
Asked about England’s shortcomings with the bat, amid a wider debate about the domestic structure back home, Thorpe replied: “They’re trying to learn in county cricket, but the truth is, when they come out of county cricket, they have to learn it all again, because Test cricket is 10 times harder.
“We’ve had a massive focus on white-ball cricket in the last five or six years, our four-day cricket is pushed to one side. We need to address those things.
“Some of our young players are getting an education and if they didn’t know before, they understand how tough Test cricket is. Not just on the field, but off it.”
While frustrated his charges have failed to adopt his stated blueprint – “Leave the ball well, defend straight, cut and pull really well, bat long” – Thorpe at least hopes the tour has served as a “wake up” that could kickstart careers. Among them is Rory Burns, who was dropped for Melbourne and seemingly will not return until adjustments are made.
Thorpe said: “I told him: ‘You’ve played 30 Test matches and you average 30. We want you to be doing more, to be better as a player.’ He needs to do the simple things better, calm things down with his movements. It’s tough to do in competition. Sometimes they have to come out and then you can reset a little bit.
“When players get a little bit of success they then think ‘my way is the right way’. And there’s a balance to it. But the best bowlers in the world are going to analyse your technique and the right-hand [runs] column tells you if you’re getting it right or not.
“We’ve seen he’s got a fighting character but at the same time you need a technique and temperament at the highest level.”