When Ben Hollioake started off his playing career he was touted as the next ‘Ian Botham’ of Cricket. Yes, not every young all-rounder has had the privilege of being compared to the legend but then Ben had something very special about him.
He was born on November 11, 1977, in Melbourne Australia. Later, his family moved to Hong Kong and then finally settled in England where he and his elder brother Adam started playing cricket.
From a very young age, Ben was a brilliant cricketer. In 1990 he was picked for the England U-14 outfit and a few years later he made it to the U-19 team which had the likes of Matthew Hoggard, Gareth Batty, Andrew Flintoff and Owais Shah.
Now, he was quite impressive too in the team which had such talents and his form handed him a call to the England side when he was just 19.To be precise, then he was the third youngest England player to make his debut after Brian Close and JN Crawford.
He was sent into bat at No.3 on his debut versus Australia at the historic Lord’s in 1997 and he announced his arrival on the international scene with a bang. Ben smashed his way to a 48-ball 63 and the innings not only pushed him into the limelight but also earned him high praises including the comparison to Botham.
"We just told him to go out and express himself," Mike Atherton the then England captain said of Ben’s whirlwind knock.
The youngster too was delighted and spurted out,”Yeah. There's quite a good atmosphere in this ground.”
Ben and his elder brother Adam together made their Test debut against Australia in 1997
In that very year he and his brother Adam together made their Test debut for England in the fifth game of the Ashes. They were the fifth set of brothers to play for England in the same Test and the third to make a debut together after the Grace and Hearne brothers.
Ben scored 30 runs (28, 2) in the game and picked up two wickets. In the first innings he was out caught off a Paul Reiffel delivery while in the second Shane Warne ended his 25-ball struggle by trapping him in front of the stumps.
He was dropped soon after the game from Test matches. He played a few One-Dayers in 1998 and 1999 but then was axed again. He had to battle it out through the county championships where he played for Surrey. Such was his strength and pace that his captain, Alec Stewart once said he hits the gloves harder than any other established bowler.
But getting back to the playing XI was tough. His batting flickered and bowling too left many disappointed. He was even dropped from Surrey. However, he did not lose heart. He worked as hard as he could in the nets and with time Ben got better with the willow and accurate with the leather again.
He got back into the England ODI team in 2001 and finally hit form. After success in his country he toured Bangladesh and India. He was one of those players who could adapt to any situation according to the need of the game. In the triangular series in 2001 there was an explosive 37 not out against Australia and a resolute 53 against Pakistan. His bowling too was wily than before.
He was also a part of the side which went to New Zealand in 2002. But then tragedy struck.
As his elder brother would later recall, his father called on that fateful night of March 22, 2002, ten minutes after Adam had reached his house saying Ben had met with an accident.
Ben died in a car crash in 2002, aged 24
Ben died after his Porsche 924 spun on the freeway exit, made slippery by light rain and crashed into a wall. He was driving home after a family dinner where Adam was also present and both brothers had left simultaneously but in different cars.
Ben was just 24 years and 132 days old and no other England Test player had died that young. Nasser Hussain who was England skipper then flew back from the Test series in New Zealand to attend Ben’s funeral which was also attended by Australian players and his Surrey teammates, a testimony to the huge popularity he had.
He is still remembered for the whirlwind knock that had set Lord’s on fire on a brightly lit afternoon in 1997 where he took apart the McGrath’s and the Warne’s which needed immense calibre during those days.
Ben was one of the youngest cricketers to die. Bangladesh’s Manzarul Islam had passed away when he was 22 and Archie Jackson died at 23. Adam later named his daughter ‘Bennaya’ as a tribute to his brother Ben and his girlfriend Janaya who was gravely injured in the same road accident.
In this day and age of T20 cricket Ben would have surely been a cricketer one would love to have in the team. A stiff competition for players like the Kieron Pollards and the Ben Stokes.