Ending the Windies hoodoo
England, you may have heard, were rubbish in the '90s. When Hussain took over the captaincy, they promptly lost at home to New Zealand and were booed by their own fans. But in the summer of 2000 something begin to stir. West Indies were in decline, but they still had Brian Lara and the two-pronged menace of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The whole series was an underrated tub-thumper, featuring a buttock-clenching chase at Lord's, Andy Caddick's four in an over as West Indies were obliterated for 61 at Headingley, and the denouement at The Oval (personal highlight: Craig White pegging back Lara's leg stump first ball), as England reclaimed the Wisden Trophy after a 31-year wait.
The upswing in fortunes brought about by Hussain and Duncan Fletcher was, looking back, quite extraordinary. That winter they completed an Asian double that remains almost unthinkable. It began in Pakistan, that most inhospitable of locales for touring Englishmen. After a couple of high-scoring draws in Lahore and Faisalabad, the series came down to the decider in Karachi, where Pakistan had never lost a Test. The headline acts included a double-century stand between Yousuf Youhana (before he became Mohammad Yousuf) and Inzamam-ul-Haq; Michael Atherton's last Test hundred; Inzamam being bowled padding up to Ashley Giles in the second innings; and, finally, Hussain and Graham Thorpe dancing in the dark as England stole victory after Steve Bucknor kept the teams on in defiance of Moin Khan's time-wasting.
Lucking it out in Lanka
This was more of a saloon-bar brawl, as England came back from 1-0 down to beat a Sri Lanka side led by Sanath Jayasuriya and featuring Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. There was more than a dollop of hapless umpiring at play, too, though England were on the receiving end in Galle (just look at that Alec Stewart lbw!), where Marcus Trescothick scored his maiden Test hundred but the tourists were thrashed by an innings. In Kandy, Hussain was the beneficiary of BC Cooray's largesse as England won a thriller and the umpires again came under fire; before a Thorpe masterclass (113 not out and 32 not out) saw England claim the series at the SSC.
Headingley and all that
For all the pugnacious spirit exhibited by Hussain's side, England still weren't that good. Pakistan got a measure of revenge for Karachi by mugging them in the final session at Old Trafford in 2001 - umpiring again in the spotlight, as David Shepherd missed a series of no-balls. True to '90s form, the Ashes was another no contest, but the summer's highlight came at Headingley, where Mark Butcher's famous 173 not out gave England fans something to cheer. And while we're here, let's zip forward to the winter tour of New Zealand and a rollicking Test in Christchurch, which featured Nathan Astle's supernova double-hundred as England just about clung on defending 550.
Gabba dabba don't
Sorry Nasser, we have to go there. The call to bowl first in Brisbane at the start of the 2002-03 Ashes has gone down as one of the great toss bloopers. "Looks a little bit in it," Hussain said, "I want to give our young bowling attack the best chance of a bit of grass on the wicket and get into their batting early." Australia ended day one on 364 for 2, although England's cause was not helped by a shocking knee injury suffered by Simon Jones - and some equally horrific catching. After a 4-1 defeat, Hussain soldiered on through the World Cup until the summer, before handing over to Michael Vaughan - which history proved to be pretty well judged.
But let's end on a positive note, as Hussain did himself with a Frank Sinatra farewell at Lord's: an unbeaten hundred, which included hitting the winning runs, in his final Test innings. Now that wouldn't have happened in the '90s.
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