Captaining the England cricket team is an honour only a small number of people have experienced.
80 people to be exact, spanning back to 1876.
A role which has only been handed to one British Asian man in England’s cricket history – Nasser Hussain – who became the nation’s 72nd captain, succeeding Michael Atherton in 1999.
Hussain’s path to becoming the England captain differs from previous captains.
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Nasser Hussain [centre right] standing with team-mates at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG)
The former cricketer, 52, was born in India, a country where cricketers are adored and treated like royalty. Most Indian children who play cricket at their local oval have one dream – to represent their country on the international cricket stage.
But for Hussain, it all changed in 1974. He moved to the United Kingdom, aged six, with his parents, brother and sister, and that’s where his cricket career started to evolve.
The 52-year-old still remembers his first culture shock playing cricket outside the sub-continent as a teenager.
‘The biggest thing was the climate,’ Hussain said on the Final Word podcast.
‘A January morning at 7am, putting up the cricket nets indoor cricket school wasn’t exactly the Chepauk stadium,’ he said with a slight laugh.
Nasser ‘Nas’ Hussain is remembered among the Barmy Army faithful as a commanding run-scorer with natural poise in difficult batting conditions.
But, early in his career playing at Essex, he was a hot-headed leg spinner who was forced to change arts. England selectors instructed him to improve his batting, to be considered for England selection in the future.
In 1990, Nas received news from his Essex teammate, Graham Gooch, that he would be selected to play for England against a strong West Indies side in the Caribbean. He jokingly brushed off the big news.
“Oh, that West Indies side who keeps betting England 5-0…oh great…I’m really looking forward to that,” he said with laughter.Embed from Getty Images
Nasser Hussain’s England debut against the West Indies
England put in a dominant performance in the first test, winning the match by nine wickets. But the West Indies proved to be too good, claiming the series as 2-1 victors over a young England side.
Nine years later, Hussain was picked as the next captain to lead England, to change the culture and introduce a new philosophy.
An England side that was used to losing and didn’t have a mean bite to them.
Frustratingly – for Nasser – his tenure as England captain was in an era which featured exceptional national sides such as his native country, India, and Australia whose 90/00s’ team is arguably the greatest to have ever played the sport.
His test stats would suggest he wasn’t a successful England captain. However, his and England head coach, at the time, Duncan Fletcher’s ideology steered England into the right direction, handing debuts to Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, James Anderson and Simon Jones. They picked players with particular psychological traits which previous England sides had lacked in the earlier years.Embed from Getty Images
Nasser Hussain [right] talking with Duncan Fletcher [left] at a training session
‘There was a fundamental I wanted to select on – character,’ he said ardently.
‘I want to know how many runs they have when it’s really tough out there.’
The newly elected captain wanted his team to be resilient under pressure and make it hard for their opponents to beat them over a gruelling five-day test match.Embed from Getty Images
Nasser Hussain [left] handing Marcus Trescothick [right] his England debut in 2000
England went on to win more test series under Hussain’s captaincy between 1999 and 2003. Sadly, the one trophy that eluded him, like many other England captains before him, was the illustrious Ashes urn.
His replacement as England captain, Michael Vaughan, a player who he introduced to the side to improve the team’s mentality, went on to lead England to a famous Ashes victory over a brilliant Australia side. Hussain doesn’t regret his decision to retire before the 2005 Ashes series.
‘I was completely and utterly mentally scrambled…it had taken its toll on me,’ he said.
‘If I had continued as captain or a player, there is no way on this planet that we [England] would’ve won the 2005 Ashes series.’
Hussain, now a respected cricket analyst for Sky Sports, hopes his breakthrough into the England side helped open the door for other British Asian men to be selected for the nation’s cricket side.
He feels that English cricket now aligns with England as a multicultural society, accepting more people from all ethnic backgrounds. Nasser highlighted how the England players reacted when their teammate Moeen Ali, a practising Muslim, won player of the series at Edgbaston – signalling how much the sport has progressed.Embed from Getty Images
Moeen Ali [centre] celebrates with team mates after completing his hat trick
“The England team were about to spray champagne but Alastair Cook and the players waved to Moeen, asking him to be in the photo before they sprayed the champagne as he is a Muslim man and doesn’t want to be near alcohol,” he said.
“He comes in for the photo, and the team says off you go, and I thought this was a poignant moment.”
Like England, the India supporters respected Hussain’s cricket achievements despite him choosing to represent a different national side. The India supporters only showed adulation whenever he returned to his country of birth.Embed from Getty Images
Nasser Hussain [right] batting against India
‘Every time I went back to India, I was absolutely thrilled they took me as one of their own,’ he said with a smile.
‘They were proud that this Indian lad had gone off to England and went on to captain England.’
He left India as a young boy with a big dream but returned as a man who helped shape the England cricket team, beyond his role as captain.