Cricketer, boxer, or cage fighter – it’s hard to tell which term best fits Adam Hollioake, the former England cricket captain. After retiring from the game in 2008, he explored various avenues to follow his life-long interest in contact sport. But his story isn’t just about that, with obstacles – and the determination to overcome them – part of the fabric.
On March 22, 2002, Adam lost his younger brother Ben Hollioake, who died aged 24 in a car accident. Soon after, he was left with debts of close to £UK 14 million after a family property business was liquidated, and was declared bankrupt. He rebuilt his life from scratch, albeit through unconventional means.
Taking time to chat with Wisden India, he opened up about the death of his brother, bankruptcy, how adversity made him stronger. Excerpts:
What were the different sports you were keen on?
I was keen on all kinds of sports really. When I left Australia and moved to England, I got into rugby. Cricket was just a sport that I used to play in between the rugby season. I trained in athletics, boxing, cricket, rugby and tennis. I was in boarding school, so I had access to all the sporting facilities. When I was 16, I got a professional contract with Surrey, and that was when I started to take cricket really seriously.
How would you describe your cricketing career?
In one word – strange. I think it was much like my life. It was a rollercoaster – up and down, lots of highs and lows. I was the player who did really well or really badly. There was never much in between. There wasn’t much consistency; I was neither very successful nor very unsuccessful.
How would you describe your experience of captaining England?
When I got asked to be the captain of England, I don’t think I was ready. I had played only five One-Day Internationals before I was asked, and maybe that was too early for me. But you don’t turn down the captaincy of England.
When I first came into the job, I did really well. We won that tournament in Sharjah. We had two tough series against West Indies and South Africa. But like I said before, it was very successful and then very unsuccessful. I enjoyed it, and it is something I am very proud of. It is something that will always be on my cricket CV.
What were the challenges you faced as captain?
The hardest thing for me was that I was still new to international cricket. So it was hard to concentrate on captaincy and my own game together. My own game suffered a little bit because of captaincy. In hindsight, I would have liked to have had more games without the duty of captaincy before I was given it. The biggest challenge, when you’re an allrounder, is you have to bat, bowl, everyone has to field, and I had the added responsibility of the captaincy. I had to do four things when the rest had only two to worry about.
You made your debut alongside your brother – how did that feel like?
At the time, it didn’t seem anything particularly amazing or special. We were both young and everything was going right in our lives. He played for Surrey, I played for Surrey; everything we did was successful. Then we played for England together, made our debuts, and it seemed like, ‘okay, this is going to be forever.’ And then he died in an accident. Now when I look back, I realise how special that was. At the time, maybe I took a little bit for granted. It was a very proud moment, don’t get me wrong, but I probably didn’t realise how big an occasion it was until after I finished playing.
You were named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 2003 – how was that like?
Being named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year is a huge accolade. For me, when I first became a professional cricketer, I didn’t know if I even wanted to play cricket. To end up as one of the Cricketers of the Year in 2003 was the biggest honour that can be paid. It was a massive moment. I guess that’s something else that can never be taken away from you.
When you retired, were you satisfied with the career you had?
I know I could have carried on playing more. I was still fit and only 32. I was fit, strong and certainly could have carried on playing, but I’m happy I walked away on my own terms. I was ready for a new challenge. I wasn’t enjoying my cricket as much and since my brother died, I was ready to go. I think I could have achieved a lot more had I played a few more years, but I was ready to move on to the next phase of my life.
How did your brother’s accident affect you?
We went to boarding school together. He lived with me. We were in the same cricket team. He was a massive part of my life. When he died, there was a big void in my life. He was the closest person to me. After that happened, it changed me a lot, obviously. Cricket, too, was not as much fun anymore. It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
What spurred you to take up boxing and martial arts?
I’ve always loved boxing. I think Mike Tyson just came onto the scene and I really took to it. It was my first real love when I was 12, and ever since then, I carried on boxing and training in the sport. It was only by chance that I went down to my gym in Australia, and I was training when my trainer asked me if I wanted to box professionally. I got into martial arts after boxing. It wasn’t until I finished playing that I concentrated on wrestling etc. I love the mixed martial arts.
How different do you find the training and practice for boxing from cricket?
Mentally, there’s not much difference. You’ve got to prepare yourself very similarly to cricket. Training-wise, it’s a bit different. There’s a bit more anaerobic fitness and probably more strength and aerobic training than in cricket. But now, even guys who play cricket are pretty fit. You have to be fit for what you do.
Each sport has its own requirements and fitness, and I’m not saying boxing and mixed martial arts are fitter than cricket; they’re just different. There are different skills and different training methods involved. This involves more short and explosive training, when compared to having to get fit to play five days of a Test match. For that you need more stamina. My fights last between 15 minutes and 45 minutes, so you have to be fit for just that period of time.
Your thoughts on the evolution of cricket and how Twenty20 has changed the game?
I think in the last 10 years or so, the game has improved a lot and we’ve seen some of the biggest changes in a long time. T20 came into the picture and has made people rethink the way they play. You’ve started bowling slow bouncers, playing scoop shots, switch-hitting…all these different tactics have come into game because of the advent of T20. Now the game’s moving on, the players are a lot more fit, there’s a lot more video analysis now, more money – everything has improved since I finished playing.
I think they’ve also got different games for different people. For people who love Test cricket, that’s still there, they can go and watch that. I love Test cricket, but I haven’t got time to watch it now. I’ve got three kids, a job, I train, I fight professionally, so I don’t have a lot of time. So T20 for me is perfect. My wife and kids like T20 but I feel like watching Tests. In the old days, there were just Tests. If you didn’t have time to watch that, then there was nothing for you. But now there’s something for everybody.
What are your thoughts on modern-day sledging?
I don’t think anyone wants the game to become completely sterile where nobody is speaking on the pitch. We still want our personalities and still want people to show their competitiveness. I just think that sometimes, people worry about sledging too much. To me, it’s not a big deal. It’s fine in some sports.
If you look at ice hockey, they’re allowed to fight. I’m not saying cricket should be like that. But you have other sports where, like rugby union, you’re not even allowed to speak to the referee, otherwise you get a penalty. In soccer, they’re arguing all the time. Each sport has its own rules and cricket’s known as the gentleman’s game, but, I think a little bit of gamesmanship is okay. Taking that away would take away the personality of the game. When you see two guys sledging each other, you know it really matters to them and they really want to win. I think like everything, there has to be a limit. The laws are there; sometimes people step over them and sometimes they don’t. I think it is fine. I’ve got three kids and if the worst thing they ever do is sledge someone on the cricket pitch, I’d be very happy!
Your thoughts on the future of Test cricket
Test cricket is in a funny place at the moment. You have some very successful series like the Ashes, or India vs Pakistan. Actually any series involving India is big, but you also have a lot of other series that don’t grab people’s imaginations – like a Bangladesh-Zimbabwe one for example. Not many people are that interested. But that’s the beautiful thing about our sport – we support small countries. Maybe in those small countries, one-day cricket and T20 are more important and a better way to keep interest alive. They seem to have good crowds when they play one-day cricket. Very few sides still pull good crowds in Test matches.
The authorities have a big decision to make on how to maximise and keep interest in Tests, but it doesn’t matter because the public has to decide. If they stop watching Test cricket and there’s no demand, then it goes away. It all works itself out. If people stop watching T20 games, then the ICC isn’t going to stage too many of those. As cricket people, we’re entertainers and we should give people want they want. If everybody wants to watch Test cricket, then we should give them Test cricket; if they want T20, we play T20.
What are your thoughts on England’s chances at the 2015 World Cup?
At the moment, I don’t think they are in a very good position to win the World Cup. But in international cricket, three or four months is a long time; a lot can change in that period. If you want me to give you an example, you can look at the Ashes in England in 2013. England won 3-0 and then four months later, they lost 5-0. That is a great indication of how quickly things can change. If the World Cup was starting today, I would say England didn’t have a chance of winning. But it is a long way away. At the moment, it would seem like they are capable of just making the Super 8s, but I’m confident that in the next few months, they can get their act together and improve.
You were declared bankrupt in 2011 – how tough was that period and how did you come out of that?
It was hard. I didn’t have money, obviously. I’ve always been successful in everything I’ve done, so it was tough. It probably wasn’t so much about the money, because I don’t really lead an extravagant life. I am pretty basic in what I do. I train in the mornings, I train at night, I spend time with my family. I don’t drive around in a Lamborghini, or wear fancy clothes. The money didn’t bother me so much as the feeling that I failed as a businessman. That was the most disappointing thing. I felt like I had let my family down. That was the hardest thing. I’m glad that is all behind me.
Like I said before, my life was always fun and there are always highs and lows. That was obviously a low, but I find that alright. Although, sometimes, I’d like a few less lows, but I think the highs come about because I take risks and try things. If I go get a job and work 9 to 5 and do the same things everyday till I die, or retire when I’m 65, then die when I’m 75… that’s not the way I want to live my life.
What have the highs and lows taught you?
I’ve got a good family. I think also, having been in these situations before gives you a lot of confidence. When something bad happens, since I’ve been here before, I think of just working hard and believing that something will come good. Some people have never had anything bad, so when something bad happens, they are not used it and lose their confidence. They aren’t too sure how to work their way out of it. I’m not sure now if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I’m experienced enough to get myself out of trouble.